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The NSA: We, too, are Americans.
September 18, 2013 7:08 PM   Subscribe

NSA mathematician Roger Barkan's take on NSA survellance of Americans. "As someone deep in the trenches of NSA, where I work on a daily basis with data acquired from these programs, I, too, feel compelled to raise my voice. Do I, as an American, have any concerns about whether the NSA is illegally or surreptitiously targeting or tracking the communications of other Americans? The answer is emphatically, "No."
posted by markkraft (190 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
in name only
posted by Renoroc at 7:11 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well in THAT case, we can all just relax and forget this whole unfortunate saga!
posted by WaylandSmith at 7:11 PM on September 18, 2013 [40 favorites]


I lol'd. Great propaganda, 10/10, deftly avoided discussing the problematic intelligence laundering of data that the NSA has passed on to the IRS and DEA.
posted by mullingitover at 7:12 PM on September 18, 2013 [39 favorites]


Hitler was also an American.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:12 PM on September 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


Is this guy authorized to make statements? I'm immediately thinking the press office and his bosses won't like this, regardless of content.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:12 PM on September 18, 2013


Of course he is.
posted by sweet mister at 7:13 PM on September 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


Ironmouth: "Is this guy authorized to make statements? I'm immediately thinking the press office and his bosses won't like this, regardless of content."

If you think this wasn't written by the press office, I have a bridge to sell you.
posted by mullingitover at 7:14 PM on September 18, 2013 [91 favorites]


(they wrote it)
posted by sweet mister at 7:14 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really cannot take anything at all about this article seriously.

You made me laugh, and then you made me angry.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:14 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dear Roger,

Please give me the passwords to your email accounts and let me track all of your movements. Then we'll see if you are not concerned. Walk the walk.

Sincerely,

The Rest of America
posted by stan.kjar at 7:15 PM on September 18, 2013 [70 favorites]


It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
posted by Slothrup at 7:15 PM on September 18, 2013 [126 favorites]


We're not watching you. We're the ones being watched.

...by ourselves. You can trust us, we'll vouch for us.
posted by enn at 7:16 PM on September 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Sometimes you just want to ask people, "what did you think it would feel like, being the bad guy? Did you think it would feel bad? Different? Did you think because you don't feel this way you can't be bad?" Nobody feels like the bad guy. Everybody thinks they're justified. There were always going to be a hundred guys like you, who bought in. Nice guys. Smart guys. Bastards.
posted by Diablevert at 7:16 PM on September 18, 2013 [102 favorites]


Does it really take an entire article to say "Trust me. Everything is in control and going as planned. We have considered every eventuality."?

Yeah everything is fine .. until the Velociraptors escape from their pens.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 7:17 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


We NSA analysts are also Americans.
posted by sendai sleep master at 7:17 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth: "Is this guy authorized to make statements? I'm immediately thinking the press office and his bosses won't like this, regardless of content."

If you think this wasn't written by the press office, I have a bridge to sell you.


I highly doubt that. Its well written, its not that well written.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:18 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sure Hitler's secretary had a similar line of reasoning.
posted by Optamystic at 7:19 PM on September 18, 2013


This is some serious propaganda FAIL.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:20 PM on September 18, 2013


I highly doubt that. Its well written, its not that well written.

Did you write it?
posted by indubitable at 7:21 PM on September 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


NSA produces foreign intelligence for the benefit and defense of our nation. Analysts are not free to wander through all of NSA's collected data willy-nilly, snooping into any communication they please. Rather, analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed to ensure that every use of data serves a legitimate foreign intelligence purpose.

This is so utterly and transparently false that I can only assume he's doing as he's told and not reading any of the relevant reporting.

In any case, it can't be taken seriously.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:21 PM on September 18, 2013 [23 favorites]


Ironmouth: "Is this guy authorized to make statements? I'm immediately thinking the press office and his bosses won't like this, regardless of content."

If you take a look at his bio this does not seem like a guy likely to be going ahead with this without approval. He has political and press experience in addition to the NSA stuff so he would know it would not be a good idea.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:22 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have to agree that it doesn't need to be written by the press office to be a biased opinion - actually slothrup said it much better.

My favorite bit is Further, NSA's systems are built with several layers of checks and redundancy to ensure that data are not accessed by analysts outside of approved and monitored channels. We're monitoring ourselves, no need for anyone else to get involved!
posted by ianhattwick at 7:23 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


We, too, are Americans.

Of course they are. If they were foreigners, they couldn't be traitors.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:23 PM on September 18, 2013 [47 favorites]


If you take a look at his bio this does not seem like a guy likely to be going ahead with this without approval. He has political and press experience in addition to the NSA stuff so he would know it would not be a good idea.

Oh, nevermind. That was not the author of the actual piece.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:23 PM on September 18, 2013


My favorite bit is Further, NSA's systems are built with several layers of checks and redundancy to ensure that data are not accessed by analysts outside of approved and monitored channels.

It's my favorite, but that's because, you know, Snowden pretty much disproved that. You can't help but marvel at such steadfast denial in the face of the obvious.
posted by indubitable at 7:27 PM on September 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


MetaFilter, unable to cope with the idea that many NSA agents are concerned with privacy, devolves to sarcasm.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:28 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


He says we should be reassured because the NSA has all these checks and balances. But he ignores the more fundamental checks and balances of the Constitution and the Judicial vs the Executive branch. The NSA has been ignoring these, so we have every right to not trust their own built-in checks and balances no matter how weil he thinks they work.
posted by eye of newt at 7:29 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well, if the NSA vouches for themselves, I say alright. They seem like a bunch of stand up guys. Much like those nice young men who resealed my driveway.
posted by evilDoug at 7:30 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


As someone who once worked at the NSA, this article is some bullshit.
posted by corb at 7:31 PM on September 18, 2013 [33 favorites]


Rather, analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed...We're not watching you. We're the ones being watched.

So it's spies all the way down.

...systems are built with several layers of checks and redundancy ... even the tiniest analyst error ... is immediately and forthrightly addressed and reported internally and then to NSA's external overseers. Given the mountains of paperwork ...

In all seriousness, one of the main objections to this kind of data-gathering by the powers is the inhuman and inhumane uses that unaccountable, bureaucratic organizations tend to put giant databases to.

This essay, by playing up the incomprehensibly-complex computer system and gordian-knot-style bureaucracy at the NSA, is astonishingly tone-deaf in that regard. Somebody is Not Getting It.

Not that we should be surprised.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:32 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Of course, you'd wonder whether the NSA would allow one of its analysts to reach the opposite conclusion....
posted by anewnadir at 7:34 PM on September 18, 2013


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service.

In an article full of dubious assertion and shaded meaning, this stands out as one of the bigger whoppers.
posted by bonehead at 7:35 PM on September 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


Oh, also: when you've worked for the NSA even for a short while, you are supposed to pre-clear anything you publish. This had to go past someone at the NSA before going out.
posted by corb at 7:37 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm going to hold off on making a judgment until it can be ascertained whether this guy crossed his heart or not. I think there is a serious risk of backsies here. We need to verify this stuff properly.
posted by No-sword at 7:38 PM on September 18, 2013 [24 favorites]


Why even post this? Anyone who disbelieves will still disbelieve no matter what he says. There is nothing he could say that wouldn't cause the responses seen here (We already have one godwin, and one person calling him a traitor).
posted by zabuni at 7:38 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Later Roger made some ricin and gave it to a kid. But it was only to get you on his side! He's still not a bad guy!
posted by supercrayon at 7:38 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


MetaFilter, unable to cope with the idea that many NSA agents are concerned with privacy, devolves to sarcasm.

The NSA is concerned about privacy in the same way an exterminator is concerned about pests.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:40 PM on September 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


As someone who is a cook at a McDonalds and regularly spits in the food, am I worried about spit in my Big Mac? No. I don't spit in my own food. That would be stupid. And if I did, it would be my spit, so that's fine anyway. And you shouldn't worry either, because I only spit in the food of people that act like assholes, and you're not an asshole, are you?
posted by empath at 7:41 PM on September 18, 2013 [61 favorites]


The article is full of untestable assertions that amount to 'trust us'. Which we don't.
posted by sweet mister at 7:42 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why even post this? Anyone who disbelieves will still disbelieve no matter what he says. There is nothing he could say that wouldn't cause the responses seen here (We already have one godwin, and one person calling him a traitor).

We've had plenty of posts outlining Snowden's perspective. It's interesting to get a view from someone with personal insight who disagrees who isn't a politician or a bureaucrat, even if people find Snowden's take more credible.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:42 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


who isn't a politician or a bureaucrat

Technically, he's a bureaucrat.
posted by empath at 7:44 PM on September 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Man, I hope this triggers another data dump that embarrasses the NSA even further.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:45 PM on September 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Technically, he's a bureaucrat.

Well, I meant the more administrative Hermes Conrad type. As a mathematician who seems to be a big fan of puzzles he is probably doing more of the actual meat and potatoes work of the organization.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:48 PM on September 18, 2013


Lying liars and the liars they lie for.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:49 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Aside from however I feel about NSA's activity, I'm… puzzled?… bitterly amused?… by how the more strident commenters here conceptualize the day-to-day work of NSA employees and other traditional MeFi boogeymen, like people who work in finance and Silicon Valley engineers. Sometimes it feels like people are talking about Mr. Hyde-like characters who cackle and scurry. I would imagine that this degree of dehumanizing vitriol is cathartic. And it also has a clear performative element. But since this thread has already been Godwinned, consider Nazi Germany. Lots of people lived in Nazi Germany, and I'm sure many of our ancestors would say that they were ready to kill one of those people on sight, as a righteous and patriotic act. But after World War II ended, the Allies didn't exterminate Germany's entire population. Over time, most people learned to think of former Nazis as just "the German people." The point of my story is that there are no Nazis at the NSA.
posted by Nomyte at 7:51 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


On google (the poor man's nsa), goodreads tells us:

Roger Barkan is currently reading
Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
by Jenny Lawson (Goodreads Author)
bookshelves: currently-reading
posted by hexatron at 7:53 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Nomyte -- you mean all the nazis were at NASA?
posted by hexatron at 7:55 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sometimes it feels like people are talking about Mr. Hyde-like characters who cackle and scurry.

Have you ever worked for the federal government? I have. It's not exactly cackling and scurrying that concerns me as much as rank incompetence and petty corruption.
posted by empath at 7:56 PM on September 18, 2013 [13 favorites]



Aside from however I feel about NSA's activity, I'm… puzzled?… bitterly amused?… by how the more strident commenters here conceptualize the day-to-day work of NSA employees and other traditional MeFi boogeymen, like people who work in finance and Silicon Valley engineers. Sometimes it feels like people are talking about Mr. Hyde-like characters who cackle and scurry. I would imagine that this degree of dehumanizing vitriol is cathartic. And it also has a clear performative element. But since this thread has already been Godwinned, consider Nazi Germany. Lots of people lived in Nazi Germany, and I'm sure many of our ancestors would say that they were ready to kill one of those people on sight, as a righteous and patriotic act. But after World War II ended, the Allies didn't exterminate Germany's entire population. Over time, most people learned to think of former Nazis as just "the German people." The point of my story is that there are no Nazis at the NSA.


In other words, they're just following orders?
posted by entropicamericana at 7:57 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


"I would imagine that this degree of dehumanizing vitriol is cathartic."
And I would imaging intellectualization and a sense self righteousness are useful at separating oneself from the reality of the matter as well.

Its pretty clear, if there are checks and balances they are inadequate. Remember the LOVEINT scandal, when analysts were caught spying on significant others? In the Prism slides, to collect data there only needed to be 51% certainty as to whether a target was foreign. 51%, thats adequate checks and balances??? Any mathematician would know the false positive rate is through the roof.
posted by SounderCoo at 7:59 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's interesting to get a view from someone with personal insight who disagrees who isn't a politician or a bureaucrat, even if people find Snowden's take more credible.

I'm talking less about markkraft reasons, and more about the mathematician. The well is pretty poisoned online. It is interesting seeing what people think from the inside pov. As a way to convince doubters, not so much.
posted by zabuni at 8:02 PM on September 18, 2013


Nomyte -- you mean all the nazis were at NASA?

Hey, you intercepted my deleted last sentence.
posted by Nomyte at 8:03 PM on September 18, 2013


Dear Roger,

Hey now. Not all of us are busy rogering the right to privacy. (Sincerely, Other People Who Share This Asshole's Given Name)
posted by RogerB at 8:03 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the Prism slides, to collect data there only needed to be 51% certainty as to whether a target was foreign.

I love that 51% figure and the false air of accuracy it connotes.

It's like saying Aerosmith are 51% better than Anthrax.

I'm 51% certain you're an asshole!

I need this script to be 51% funnier!

OKAY THEN! I'LL GET RIGHT ON THAT!
posted by sweet mister at 8:09 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


The point of my story is that there are no Nazis at the NSA.

Actually, the point of your story is that Nazis are just regular people doing what they think is both reasonable and for the good for their country. This is why the NSA needs oversight.
posted by anonymisc at 8:10 PM on September 18, 2013 [19 favorites]


We're not watching you. We're the ones being watched.

enn: ...by ourselves. You can trust us, we'll vouch for us.

No, by his supervisors. See, he's just a cryptanalyst, a hired brain. There are other people telling him what to look through, other people setting up the programs to collect the data. He is but one cog in a big system. Of course he's being watched, just like anyone else with layers of supervision above them.

And his supervisors totally vouch for his work, and for his article here.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:10 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


NSA produces foreign intelligence for the benefit and defense of our nation. Analysts are not free to wander through all of NSA's collected data willy-nilly, snooping into any communication they please. Rather, analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed to ensure that every use of data serves a legitimate foreign intelligence purpose.

See, it's all about what analysts like him do. Other NSA officers get more permission to snoop, like those who spy on love interests, collecting "LOVEINT" (yes, they even made slang for this sort of data-stalking).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:14 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


It wasn't ricin, it was Lily of the Valley!!
posted by raysmj at 8:15 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


This post made me laugh although I feel like if you went all psychoanalysis on the subtext there you could make a pretty compelling case there's a subconscious cry for help embedded in it.

On google (the poor man's nsa)

I like it! Where's Don Draper when you need someone pitch this to Google's advertising department.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:18 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm… puzzled?… bitterly amused?… by how the more strident commenters here conceptualize the day-to-day work of NSA employees and other traditional MeFi boogeymen,

Well, here's the thing about that: the NSA, unlike boogeymen, is a real organization that really does unconstitutional things and really doesn't appear to be constrained in its pursuit of narrowly-defined national interests by legal or moral parameters. Any organization's work is constituted by day-to-day operations: that an act is mundane is not proof of its moral neutrality. Maybe you didn't realize how unbelievably fatuous that statement sounds.

like people who work in finance and Silicon Valley engineers. Sometimes it feels like people are talking about Mr. Hyde-like characters who cackle and scurry.

It seems this line of content-free invective is aimed at how Nomyte imagines other people might think about these things, rather than the substantive issues at hand. That's unfortunate, but hardly unusual for reactionaries: it's a common choice to descend into the banal sophistry of belittling principled moral concerns in infantile terms, as though doing so is an efficacious antidote to the very real problems under discussion.

I would imagine that this degree of dehumanizing vitriol is cathartic. And it also has a clear performative element.

There are other good reasons to care about what happens in the world than these narcissistic trivialities.
posted by clockzero at 8:18 PM on September 18, 2013 [29 favorites]


He probably knows he doesn't have to worry because he is spying on the people who are watching him.
posted by srboisvert at 8:20 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter, unable to cope with the idea that many NSA agents are concerned with privacy, devolves to sarcasm.

Yeah, that's what happened.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:22 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


to ensure that data are not accessed by analysts outside of approved and monitored channels.

I'm not sure that it's what might be going on outside of approved and monitored channels that anyone's really worried about, here. The approved and monitored channels are probably bad enough.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:24 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I expressed no views of the NSA's actual work, and in fact explicitly said that this was completely irrelevant to the point I was making. That was my first sentence. Every single person has interpreted this as an indication of my tacit approval of the NSA's activity. If you're going to respond to me specifically, at least engage with the damn point I was trying to make.

Also, I see that you left out everything in that sentence after the word boogeymen, but I assure you that people who work in finance and Silicon Valley engineers are real too.
posted by Nomyte at 8:25 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This would be hilariously tone deaf if I didn't think a brute force PR campaign, no matter how much it flew in the face of actual events, could pretty easily lay out public opinion in favor of the lets-hoover-up-everything monitoring which the OP implicitly excuses.

Ironically, I am too drunk to deal with this.
posted by postcommunism at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is the essay I wrote easily dismissed with a Godwin? If yes, rethink premise.

"As someone deep in the trenches of the Nazi party, where I work on a daily basis with data acquired from these programs, I, too, feel compelled to raise my voice. Do I, as a German, have any concerns about whether the Nazi party is illegally or surreptitiously targeting or tracking the communications of other Germans? The answer is emphatically, "No."

Or, if you want a more American example: "As someone deep in the trenches of Hoover's FBI, where I work on a daily basis with data acquired from these programs, I, too, feel compelled to raise my voice. Do I, as an American, have any concerns about whether Hoover's FBI is illegally or surreptitiously targeting or tracking the communications of other Americans? The answer is emphatically, "No."
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I worked for the Junk Bond Company that went belly-up in 1990, I was one of those "Good Germans, just following orders", working a part of the company that had nothing to do with Junk Bonds. I could have written an "insider article" just like that, until the crisis reached the point that every non-executive at the home office had to devote 2 hours a day to fielding the flood of phone calls from our customers, many of whom were depending on a monthly check from my company as their only meager income. And what was I ordered to tell them? "Tell them checkwriting has been suspended; don't give any prediction or assurance of when it may resume; just tell them we're working on it." The voices on the other end of the phone broke my heart and changed my worldview. Fortunately, the California State Insurance Department was in a position to move in within four weeks (yeah, a "Junk Bond Financed Insurance Company?") and they only lost one month's income that was repaid a couple years later. Not that it still wouldn't have been devastating for some of them. But Government Bureaucracy fixed much of what Dynamic Entrepreneurship (what the management of my company was called) destroyed. And hey, I stayed on with the company, getting "retention bonuses" for every month I didn't quit until management decided it was safe to lay me off with a hefty severance package. I didn't have the nerve to do otherwise; I just died inside daily for five months and deposited my checks - with the knowledge I would never work someplace like that again... and never make half as much money.

It was an experience the likes of which I sincerely wish upon Roger Barken and all the other "just doing my job, no problem here" people. How can you tell you're one of those people today? Well, if you're being paid well, if your job is considered 'stable', there's a frighteningly large likelihood you're one of the "Good Germans"... you don't even have to be in the Evil 1%. The old line "It can't happen here"? It does, all the time, and more today than ever.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:29 PM on September 18, 2013 [49 favorites]


The amazing thing is the premise here: I'm part of the NSA and I have no problem with what we do, so you shouldn't either. Ignoring all the issues of self-policing, the Constitution, judicial review, etc..., we know that other former NSA (and other intelligence community agencies) employees have come to the opposite conclusion: that what is going on is so wrong (and in some cases, a giant waste of public funds) that they decided to risk pretty much everything to expose it. Not just Snowden, we've had Drake, Binney, and Wiebe, Adrienne Kinne, Diane Roark, Mark Klein (at AT&T).

Sure, people are going to be discontent at any company. But I'd rather pay more attention to the concerns of the people risking espionage charges to make them heard than someone who's just fine with the folks at the other end of his paycheck.
posted by zachlipton at 8:34 PM on September 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


"If you take a look at his bio this does not seem like a guy likely to be going ahead with this without approval. He has political and press experience in addition to the NSA stuff so he would know it would not be a good idea."

You're looking at the bio of the journalist for ZDNet, not that of the NSA employee... who, by all appearances, appears to be really, really awesome at puzzle solving.

I find it kind of odd to see people essentially calling him evil or a liar, when they lack any provably current information to show that his interpretation on what it is like to work at the NSA.

Much of the critiques I have seen of the NSA violating civil liberties came out of a less-than-current FISA court decision, where a judge, when enforcing constitutional restrictions on the NSA, complained not so much about agents intentionally violating people's civil liberties, but about how the technological architecture did so, in certain limited, infrequent -- but unacceptable -- ways. That's why the judge basically made the NSA dump a whole lot of data and required that subsequent gathering not have the questionable email attachments, for example.

Indeed, Larry Lessig's biggest complaint about the revelations wasn't the legality of it, as much as how it seemed to indicate -- at least a few years ago, when most of the verifiable data was fresh -- that the systems in place at the NSA were under-designed at a code-level... all the info flowed in, but the kind of code you'd like to see in place that would help to protect that data fully wasn't there yet.

Lessig: "In a sense yes, we're being watched. I certainly assumed that there were computers that were making flags whenever certain kinds of words or relationships were established. I was sure that was happening, especially internationally. But the question again is the difference between computers doing it in a well regulated sense. . . Now, again the president has said that nobody's listening to telephone calls or reading emails of American citizens. Those two statements could be perfectly true and still there'd be something fundamentally important to worry about. . . that's the part that really frustrates me. Because, I wrote a book in '99 called Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. My point from the very beginning has been we've got to think about the technology as a protector of liberty too. So code is a kind of law. And the government should be implementing technologies to protect our liberties. Because if they don't, we don't figure out how to build that protection into the technology it won't be there. . . the point is these technologies of audit protection (is to) make it harder for the plumbers, the digital plumbers of the future to get around the protections and to violate the underlying core privacy. And that's where we should be pushing. We should recognize in a world of terrorism the government's going to be out there trying to protect us. But let's make sure that they're using tools or technology that also protects the privacy side of what they should be protecting."

Really, my feelings on this matter are very much like Professor Lessig's... we need to make sure that the systems in place are robust, not just for the NSA getting the information that they need to protect Americans, but also for protecting American's information. It's a situation where you arguably want to have technologically clueful coders working for the NSA and along with the FISA courts, so that they can say "hey, I know you want to be able to find the people you're looking for, but you don't need to gather and hold on to all this data... and you don't even need your agents to be able to access that data, which should ideally be filtered and sent straight to the DEA, with any potentially troubling info stripped out entirely. And you *can* do this... here's how."

Also, the whole NSA tips being turned over to the DEA / FBI? The intelligence on that apparently comes mostly from authorized sigint work, doing things like monitoring terrorists, drug cartels, money laundering, organized crime, etc. If there's information from these sources that implicate someone in the US -- non-citizen or otherwise -- of course that info is going to be turned over to other agencies... at which point, the question is how *they* respond, what their policies are on how this data can be used, how restricted it is, etc.

It seems a bit odd to me that the police routinely build / rebuild cases based, in part, on tips that they are given which never find their way into the courtroom, and that's standard behavior which has happened for decades. You can hardly see an episide of Law and Order without the cops being told to build the case without some piece of vital evidence... but when the DEA or FBI go to the effort of building cases against criminals in the same way, people find that troubling.

It makes me think "You do know that your rights are far more likely to be violated by your local police, because of what some local source might say, rather than what some Central American drug lord might have to say about you, right?!"
posted by markkraft at 8:34 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Have you ever worked for the federal government? I have. It's not exactly cackling and scurrying that concerns me as much as rank incompetence and petty corruption.

Don't let's forget swaggering bully-boy small town cop with the worlds biggest military and a functionally unlimited black budget. Shit goes to your head, especially when you're predisposed to believe the narrative.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:35 PM on September 18, 2013


This guy has to know that saying, "Trust us, we're the government," is THE #1 way to troll Americans regardless of race, creed, party, or historical era.

I mean, he's an American too, so he knows he's trolling the whole country, right?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:36 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


NSA guy: I'm sure you are a good person. Maybe even all the people you know at NSA are good people. Every organization has good people.

Unfortunately, every organization also has bad people. You're saying that NSA is the exception? There are no bad people? Or that somehow the agency can prevent all bad people from doing bad things? I find either claim really hard to believe. Anyone who would even think of making such a claim damages their own credibility right from the get-go.
posted by ctmf at 8:37 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


markkraft: "It seems a bit odd to me that the police routinely build / rebuild cases based, in part, on tips that they are given which never find their way into the courtroom, and that's standard behavior which has happened for decades. You can hardly see an episide of Law and Order without the cops being told to build the case without some piece of vital evidence... but when the DEA or FBI go to the effort of building cases against criminals in the same way, people find that troubling."

Yeah, what's with you people, with your whining about getting a fair trial where your defense attorney has access to the same facts as the prosecutors. Do you want an egg in your beer too?
posted by mullingitover at 8:41 PM on September 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


I expressed no views of the NSA's actual work, and in fact explicitly said that this was completely irrelevant to the point I was making. That was my first sentence. Every single person has interpreted this as an indication of my tacit approval of the NSA's activity. If you're going to respond to me specifically, at least engage with the damn point I was trying to make.

The point you were making was rather difficult to discern, honestly. I guess you meant to say that the very reasonable skepticism expressed and measured critiques being made about the provenance of this article were comparable to eliminationist rhetoric? Or something like that? That's a rather tortured false equivalence.

Also, I see that you left out everything in that sentence after the word boogeymen, but I assure you that people who work in finance and Silicon Valley engineers are real too.

Thanks for clarifying that, but based on your previous remark it seemed like you were the one who wasn't sure if people were talking about real things. And in fact, people talk about them because they're real, and not everyone who has a problem with the effects of the finance industry on America or the world are latent genocidaires. I mean, really.
posted by clockzero at 8:43 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


it is immediately and forthrightly addressed

Ok, that's not even a word anyone ever uses. I'm calling sleeper agent or advanced sentient time-traveling AI.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:44 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


maybe the reason why I reacted to this so strongly was that I was pretty awesome at my job at the Doomed Junk Bond Company...
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:45 PM on September 18, 2013


markkraft: You can hardly see an episide of Law and Order without the cops being told to build the case without some piece of vital evidence... but when the DEA or FBI go to the effort of building cases against criminals in the same way, people find that troubling.

Most of us know that Law & Order is a fictional episodic TV series, and that, unlike the DEA and FBI, NBC is not a federal law enforcement agency.
posted by grounded at 8:45 PM on September 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


But their doink-doink is so damn convincing!
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:47 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


oceanjesse: "Hitler was also an American."

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED - Fastest Godwin ever! (-10 MeFiPoints)
posted by Samizdata at 8:49 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't know about you guys, but when a Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive has something to say, I STFU and listen
posted by threeants at 8:51 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really, my feelings on this matter are very much like Professor Lessig's... we need to make sure that the systems in place are robust, not just for the NSA getting the information that they need to protect Americans, but also for protecting American's information.

I went to see Lessig speak recently, and he made a big point of saying that infrastructure (defined generally) and community norms (defined generally) can be as important as outright legislation in controlling certain phenomena. I forget what his example was, something like traffic or smoking.

It was just a canned talk and it was delivered to a sympathetic and not very critical audience, so it was rather shallow. I ended up submitting a question about the FBI's apparent infiltration of TOR and similar recent examples of overreach. Again, Lessig didn't have time to answer in detail, but he did say that he was concerned by the revelations.

It's likely that he has taken the time to write, elsewhere, about how recent events might make him modify the thesis he posed in Code. He seemed to consider Code to be, if anything, more relevant today than when it was published originally.
posted by Nomyte at 8:53 PM on September 18, 2013


"what's with you people, with your whining about getting a fair trial where your defense attorney has access to the same facts as the prosecutors. "

Then where is the push for this at the local level, where it matters most and is arguably more politically possible?

The simple truth is that defense attorneys do not always have access to the same facts as the prosecutors... and visa versa. *However*, they are supposed to have access to the facts used to build the case.

For decades, police have built cases with local tips, informants, undercover officers, etc. Occasionally, they've felt the necessity to have to use that evidence to support their case, in which case you can have things like witness protection, etc. But often, they do not, choosing instead to build their case so as to be able to exclude such people from suspicion.

So, while I understand you might want to build yourself as strong a case as possible when defending yourself in court, you also have to consider the rights and lives of everyone else, who are protected by such policies. Obviously, federal and Supreme Court judges have considered such rights, which is why the police -- and other agencies -- are constitutionally allowed to do what they are doing.
posted by markkraft at 8:54 PM on September 18, 2013


Ok, that's not even a word anyone ever uses.

Has anyone considered that Roger might be being held captive somewhere within the NSA and is trying to send us all a message? It has to be very subtle, though, to get past the agency that makes and breaks secret codes for a living.

C'mon, are we going to figure this out or do I have to outsource it to Reddit?
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:54 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Police brutality not a problem, says policeman. And later tonight: lobbyists declare campaign finance reform unnecessary. But first, here's a guy who works for the insurance industry who thinks everybody's health insurance is fine the way it is.

Always helpful to hear from an expert.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:56 PM on September 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


Oh, yes, that's quite reasonable: we can depend on your fear of bureaucratic paperwork, to keep us safe from tyranny...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 8:57 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the Simpsons.
posted by jaduncan at 8:59 PM on September 18, 2013


I guess you meant to say that the very reasonable skepticism expressed and measured critiques being made about the provenance of this article were comparable to eliminationist rhetoric?

We seem to differ in our assessment whether insta-Godwin right out the gates, calls of "traitor!" and, elsewhere, off-hand comments about guillotines and so on, constitute measured critiques or eliminationist rhetoric.

And, just to be clear, I am borrowing "eliminationist" from you and using it to mean how Americans might have felt about Nazis at some point in history, and not something else.
posted by Nomyte at 9:04 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed to ensure that every use of data serves a legitimate foreign intelligence purpose.
I want to pair this with that screenshot of xkeyscore training slides from the Guardian, showing the dropdown to confirm target legitimacy based on their "foreignness factor." Oh wait, here it is.
posted by postcommunism at 9:04 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


postcommunism: "
analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed to ensure that every use of data serves a legitimate foreign intelligence purpose.
"

Ummmmm, yeah. I trust your INTERNAL audits, since you are here from the government to help me.

What we need is a trustworthy third-party non-governmental agency that can independently audit the records, even if the actual identity information is redacted, and tell us FOR sure where the data was going and why.

Yeah, I'm sort of a blue sky dreamer type..
posted by Samizdata at 9:08 PM on September 18, 2013


Has anyone considered that Roger might be being held captive somewhere within the NSA and is trying to send us all a message?

I discovered that the author's name also rearranges into BARKER ORGAN. Someone's trying to auction off his kidneys, we've got to help!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:08 PM on September 18, 2013


Fox says henhouse A-OK, don't even bother checking.
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


> Unfortunately, every organization also has bad people.

Individual actors have little to do with it here, I think. You could have a staff of good and earnest codebreakers who only want what's best for all of us (and honestly, in general you probably do) but they still work in the context of an organization which apparently decided that at bare minimum:

a) it's a good idea to sniff indescriminately all the data they can (or metadata, if you want to split that hair) from all monetary or social transactions on the internet (and to be fair, if you ignore everything else it is a good idea), and
b) it was fine to lie about it the people to whom them are supposed to answer

I don't have much doubt that individually, most of the people involved are great folks. A lot of them even have the enviable job of solving interesting problems. But the larger issue here isn't any one bad actor.
posted by postcommunism at 9:22 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed to ensure that every use of data serves a legitimate foreign intelligence purpose.

Which is why Edward Snowden was unable to walk out with multiple gigs of top secret classified material.
posted by empath at 9:34 PM on September 18, 2013 [21 favorites]


HARVARD-TRAINED, people. This man is Harvard-trained.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:51 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Then where is the push for this at the local level, where it matters most and is arguably more politically possible?

All of this NSA shit could be shut down immediately by the federal government. No such kill switch exists for corrupt cops. I don't even care about arguing whether this is constitutional or not - you've been doing that for months now, and every time another revelation comes out that points to unconstitutionality, you move the goalposts to say why it's not that unconstitutional. Fine, let's assume that you're right. It's legal because the government says it is.

This is costing billions of dollars every year that could be put into actually improving the world. It hasn't even been shown to be remotely effective. There are people starving in this country, but the government wants to keep detailed records of everything ever so they can potentially get a sort of tip on a case that they already knew about from old-fashioned intelligence work.
posted by one_bean at 9:55 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like President Obama, my Commander-in-Chief

Even that's deceptive. Obama is commander in chief of the armed forces and only of the armed forces. He is not commander in chief of the United States; a country where the leader has power of military command over everybody is not a democracy. Barkan is a civilian employee of the NSA, not part of the military chain of command. Obama is his boss, not his commander.

Civil/military is an important distinction. American soldiers have sworn an oath to protect the constitution. Robert Barkan has not.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:56 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


American soldiers have sworn an oath to protect the constitution. Robert Barkan has not.
In point of fact, this is simply 100% wrong. As a civilian employee of the DoD (which is, I'd wager, the source of the "Commander-in-Chief" reference), Barkan absolutely swore an oath to uphold the constitution upon appointment.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:05 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


American soldiers have sworn an oath to protect the constitution. Robert Barkan has not.

That's probably not true. If I remember correctly, I swore an oath to protect the Constitution when I worked very briefly for the CIA. I suspect NSA employees do as well.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:06 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Civil/military is an important distinction. American soldiers have sworn an oath to protect the constitution. Robert Barkan has not.

Wrong.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:06 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every federal employee is sworn in with that oath. I took it as a nurse when I started at VA, wondering all the while what, exactly, I was supposed to do if someone violated the Constitution in front of me. Catheterize them, maybe.
posted by gingerest at 10:19 PM on September 18, 2013 [27 favorites]


Response from John Gilmore.
posted by neuron at 10:35 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


This was really too easy to mock -- embarrassing, really.

"Trust us, we're Americans, plus there are strict oversight systems in place, we've taken oaths, and, here's the kicker, the paperwork is unbelievable!"

The best thing for the NSA and its apologists to do now is hush and wait for us to lose interest. Which we will, soon enough.
posted by notyou at 10:43 PM on September 18, 2013


"Not only are we entrusted to protect and defend the Nation with integrity, accountability, and respect for the law, but as NSA/CSS employees and as citizens, we must do our part to "Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." This is our commitment." until our bosses tell us otherwise and we worry about our lovely paychecks and benefits.

FTFY, NSA.
posted by Samizdata at 10:48 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I forgot, "big data's already out of the bag, so you may as well get used to it," which is probably the most chilling rationalization of all.
posted by notyou at 10:48 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


notyou: "This was really too easy to mock -- embarrassing, really.

"Trust us, we're Americans, plus there are strict oversight systems in place, we've taken oaths, and, here's the kicker, the paperwork is unbelievable!"

The best thing for the NSA and its apologists to do now is hush and wait for us to lose interest. Which we will, soon enough.
"

Unless you have paranoid privacy nutjobs (like, ummm, me) that will keep spouting off.
posted by Samizdata at 10:48 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the multiple corrections.

Now I've got a different problem: why are civilians including nurses at the VA being sworn to defend America against all enemies foreign and domestic? That implies using violence if necessary, and that would be a violation of international law for people not in uniform. This is how we get things like CIA officers taking on paramilitary duties.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:49 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I've got a different problem: why are civilians including nurses at the VA being sworn to defend America against all enemies foreign and domestic? That implies using violence if necessary, and that would be a violation of international law for people not in uniform. This is how we get things like CIA officers taking on paramilitary duties.

Sorry, this is just nuts. Every federal employee has been doing that for decades. I take it you are not american?
posted by empath at 11:13 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


My fellow Americans, you don't understand. I love puzzles, and this great organization pays me very well to solve them.
posted by benzenedream at 11:30 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Despite my little joke, I understood that supporting and defending the Constitution against enemies didn't mean taking up arms - it meant that by accepting federal office, we each became a teeny piece of the federal government, a little tiny bit of the embodiment of the United States, and by performing the duties of our jobs as they were defined in our federal contracts, we were upholding and defending the Constitution.

Maybe I was just rules-lawyering and really did swear to smack anyone with a half-full bag of Ringer's if he suddenly interfered with someone's suffrage or engaged in an illegal search and seizure.
posted by gingerest at 11:32 PM on September 18, 2013


It's actually really hard to imagine how to attack the Constitution (in its essence) as a private individual. I think that's a major feature set.
posted by gingerest at 11:36 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The nurses are actually the people responsible for making sure nobody quarters troops in our homes. They seem to be doing a good job.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:51 PM on September 18, 2013


Given the mountains of paperwork that the incident reporting process entails, you can be assured that those of us who design and operate these systems are extremely motivated to make sure that mistakes happen as rarely as possible!

I think he meant to say...

Given the mountains of paperwork that the incident reporting process entails, you can be assured that those of us who design and operate these systems are extremely motivated to make sure that the "mistakes" that do happen are reported as rarely as possible!

FTFY. ^_^
posted by trackofalljades at 12:04 AM on September 19, 2013


Dear Harvard-trained-collaborator guy,

Blow me.

Thanks!
posted by hellslinger at 12:31 AM on September 19, 2013


Linus Torvalds responds to a question about whether the U.S. government asked him to put a backdoor in Linux:
Torvalds responded "no" while shaking his head "yes," as the audience broke into spontaneous laughter.
posted by vanar sena at 12:36 AM on September 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, but what about the NSA handing off terrorism-unrelated intercepted communications to the DEA and then the DEA lying about where they got it?

Funny, he doesn't talk about that at all.
posted by evil otto at 12:41 AM on September 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think he meant to say...

Yeah, that quoted bit isn't coherent. Paperwork is a disincentive, and would not motivate an operator in the direction he claims. It's unclear how a reactive process could curtail "mistakes," other than his implication that it might instill precautionary habits, reducing the frequency of occurrence. The flaw here is it assumes the part of the ethical self-reporter who applies the process faithfully, since otherwise they would have no reason to exercise precaution.
posted by troll at 12:41 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The intelligence on that apparently comes mostly from authorized sigint work, doing things like monitoring terrorists, drug cartels, money laundering, organized crime, etc.

Again, not terrorists.
posted by evil otto at 12:48 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the DEA shouldn't even fucking exist.
posted by evil otto at 12:56 AM on September 19, 2013


HARVARD-TRAINED, people. This man is Harvard-trained.

That's the least surprising thing about this garbage. Harvard is always correct, because it's Harvard. To claim otherwise would be incoherent babbling. Ergo, anywhere that his guy works that he thinks is OK, is OK.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:04 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if his clearance prevented him from reading the debate thus far because I stopped counting the outright falsehoods rather quickly. How is "analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded"? If almost all LOVEINT cases are self reported and the NSA doesn't know what Snowden took? Is he outright lying or does the NSA lie by telling its analysts they're being watched?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:45 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes you just want to ask people, "what did you think it would feel like, being the bad guy?

The NSA is like a cult.

I was brought up in a cult-like church. I prided myself on being smarter than other people. After 34 years the question that finally broke the spell was "what would a church look like if we was fake?" Answer: it would look exactly like my church. And then the house of cards came crashing down. but until that moment we were mankind's greatest hope and had an answer for everything.

Of course, I was not being paid a huge salary to believe.
posted by EnterTheStory at 2:16 AM on September 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


I've always assumed it was a variation of one of Agent K's "people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals" monologues from Men in Black. That is, a healthy disrespect for The Sheeple and a sense that it's all for a good cause in the end.
posted by vanar sena at 3:37 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


After 34 years the question that finally broke the spell was "what would a church look like if we was fake?" Answer: it would look exactly like my church.

That is, indeed, an amazingly powerful question. While it proves nothing, it can be tremendously suggestive.
posted by JHarris at 4:31 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Somebody deserves deserves a nice Christmas bonus, doesn't he?
posted by nowhere man at 5:16 AM on September 19, 2013


NSA: "Nah, it's cool."
posted by ignignokt at 5:32 AM on September 19, 2013


Sometimes you just want to ask people, "what did you think it would feel like, being the bad guy?

Are we the baddies?

But it can't be all that easy to know you're one of the bad guys in an organization like the NSA. Presumably you are hired in part because you were a very solidly patriotic American, a team player, faithful to the core, a natural follower more than a natural leader. And you have been fed the NSA/USA side of everything and told that the NSA/USA is, on balance, doing God's work no matter what you hear from biased and uninformed news people. So you go home each night thinking the rest of the world just does not and can not understand your secret work to save the world.
posted by pracowity at 5:58 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Honestly, I would trust the government to monitor itself. If, for example the NSA were being audited by the CIA with $10,000 realocated from the NSA to the CIA for every violation they found, and the NSA (or possibly the FBI) returning the favour. No organisation (nothing to do with private or public here - just people, laziness, and cliquism) can reliably be trusted to monitor itself.
posted by Francis at 6:11 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spy vs Spy? They would find a way to keep things balanced -- you scratch my back, I won't stick a dagger in yours.
posted by pracowity at 6:26 AM on September 19, 2013


Rather, analysts' activity is carefully monitored, recorded, and reviewed...We're not watching you. We're the ones being watched.

Well, duh -- my activity, including Internet use and long distance phone calls, is monitored at work too.

I understand that to be the case as a tradeoff to working, given that my clients require some assurance I'm being productive and not misusing company resources.

I do not consent to similar monitoring of my personal activity, but hey, guess what -- the NSA is doing it anyway, thanks in part to a rubber-stamp FISA course. So this guy tells us he isn't concerned? Big deal.
posted by Gelatin at 6:33 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


After 34 years the question that finally broke the spell was "what would a church look like if we was fake?" Answer: it would look exactly like my church.

I guess the question in this case is "What would an intelligence agency look like if it was really designed to spy on absolutely everyone, all the time, for any reason or no reason, with complete disregard for the Constitution, ethics, or international law?"
posted by emjaybee at 6:42 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why shouldn't I work for the NSA? That's a tough one but I'll give it a shot...
posted by dry white toast at 6:43 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]



It would be extremely generous to believe a single word this guy says. But, even if it were 100% true, it's not OK to collect my data just in case you decide at a later time I am a terror suspect.

This country has a long, sordid history of targeting social and political activists. The fact that you're not looking at my data *now* doesn't mean that this data collection won't be abused by someone else at a later time. Beyond that, the mere fact that we know it's being collected at all causes a severe chilling effect on basic freedom of expression in this country.

This guy is not very smart for a Harvard grad.
posted by j03 at 6:50 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Don't take him at face value. He's writing to convince the public at large, not to reveal what he actually believes.
posted by pracowity at 7:08 AM on September 19, 2013


[One comment deleted; let's try not to Godwin every single discussion in Metafilter today plz thx.]
posted by taz at 7:19 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Presumably you are hired in part because you were a very solidly patriotic American, a team player, faithful to the core, a natural follower more than a natural leader.

Everyone I know who is at the NSA is there because they have an advanced degree in math and didn't want to be a professor or an actuary. Also, when you are on the academic math job market and you don't have a lot of interviews at the big meat market at the Joint Math Meetings, the NSA is there to hold your hand and whisper, "It's okay, we hire 50 mathematicians a year." Any the pay is way better than what you are going to get from almost any postdoc or assistant professor position.

Plus, the math is apparently really fun, which matters more than you'd think.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:35 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


This article is obviously encrypted. Once you crack the code the plaintext says "Help I am being held prisoner in a fortune cookie factory".
posted by chavenet at 8:17 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


vanar sena: "Linus Torvalds responds to a question about whether the U.S. government asked him to put a backdoor in Linux:
Torvalds responded "no" while shaking his head "yes," as the audience broke into spontaneous laughter.
"

I don't get it, this is confusing. Shaking your head means "no." Can you shake your head "yes"?
posted by chavenet at 8:27 AM on September 19, 2013


did you mean "nodding"?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2013


Note the absence of key phrases such as, "Let me tell you about the time I captured my first terrorist," and "The FISC has never reprimanded my employer for making substantial misrepresentations about the scope of a major collection program three times in less than a year."
posted by compartment at 8:33 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


chavenet: Shaking your head means "no."

To "shake one's head yes" is idiomatic American usage ... see e.g. here
posted by crazy_yeti at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2013


I'd like to know is if all the UK, Israeli, Candian, Australian, and New Zealand spooks that NSA shares raw SIGINT with are American too.

It made me angry to see this essay posted here, because it's so baldly propaganda. But it's so clumsy I imagine it won't do much harm. I'll also accept that it's sincere, that many NSA employees really do feel like they're doing their job at their patriotic best and we should just trust them. That doesn't change that NSA's programs are illegal, without supervision, and dangerous to democracy.
posted by Nelson at 8:39 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, the NSA outsources all the "Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation" for their Sigint Enabling Project. It's logical that paying folks to insert backdoors involves outsourcing, but even the testing apparently gets outsourced, admittedly maybe to non-profit NSA only contractors like IDA, but..

I wonder if their budget pages discussing mathematical work show most "research" being outsourced as well? At minimum, we should assume that IDA-CCR contains the NSA's brightest mathematical minds, yet normal NSA mathematicians never meet them.

What does this organizational structure tell you about the work of math PhDs who take jobs with the NSA itself? It confirms my existing understanding that mostly they write software that needs mathematical understanding, but does not require what academic researchers actually do. In practice, actuarial or Wall St. jobs might be extremely similar.

In any case, there isn't much reason for faculty to tell bright young math students that working for the NSA is more interesting than other mathematical jobs. IDA-CCR sounds interesting, sure, but they're an exclusive bunch.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:39 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


СМЕРть Шпионам
posted by sourcequench at 9:05 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Back in the day, when I was training for 98J school at Fort Devens, we used to dial up phone conversations on a piece of our training equipment during our breaks, and listen to conversations. This was possible because inter-district phone traffic in 1967 was transmitted between microwave towers, which could be tapped if you knew where to tune your receiver.

It was all in fun--something to do around the coffee urn, so to speak. We never tried to identify the speakers, or take any notes. Boyz just wanna have fun, so no harm done. I guess later on, about 1970 or so, the NSA liked to use this stuff to try to gather info on the Peace Coalition. They--the PC--actually had a TT network.

Anyhow, it was all for a good cause. I think. It's hard to remember all the details after all these years, and of course I didn't keep a journal about all that classified stuff.

I was an American too. Still am.
posted by mule98J at 9:24 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, well, I'll just take his word for it then.
posted by stenseng at 9:31 AM on September 19, 2013


crazy_yeti: "chavenet: Shaking your head means "no."

To "shake one's head yes" is idiomatic American usage ... see e.g. here
"

Since I'm on a roll, let me ask one more question that's irking me. Is the verb "to nod" hardly ever used in the USA? I am always hearing the alternate expression "to shake one's head yes" being employed instead. In the UK, the expression "to shake one's head" *always* means to shake it from side to side, thus expressing dissent, whereas to nod (the "one's head" part being optional) *always* means to move one's head up and down in agreement. The same is apparently absolutely not true in the USA... or is it?


That doesn't seem like the strongest evidence. This is a bit pithier.
posted by chavenet at 11:43 AM on September 19, 2013


Nelson found a new discussion on Y-combinator about a thwarted Linux backdoor [from 2003that] hints at smarter hacks. Very interesting consequences for "tricky" languages like C++.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:19 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good to know the NSA only hires Americans
posted by Jacen at 1:40 PM on September 19, 2013


Roger Barkan, The Early Years.

"And that is why, classmates, Miss Scrimshaw is the best teacher ever (even though she threw Tiny Tim out of the window that one time, and has that problem with drinking that we're not supposed to mention), and that is why I am proud to present her with this shiny apple."
posted by reynir at 2:41 PM on September 19, 2013


There is extremely good information here :
The War on Whistleblowers and Their Publishers
posted by jeffburdges at 3:47 PM on September 19, 2013


Pope Guilty: Of course they are. If they were foreigners, they couldn't be traitors.

They are traitors. The NSA spy regime is a crime against humanity.
posted by anemone of the state at 4:09 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


We seem to differ in our assessment whether insta-Godwin right out the gates, calls of "traitor!" and, elsewhere, off-hand comments about guillotines and so on, constitute measured critiques or eliminationist rhetoric.

I didn't think oceanjesse's remark was an instance of Godwin's rule, since he or she was apparently talking about the mechanisms of self-delusion which permit evil to flourish among the morally neutral rather than averring a moral equivalence with Nazism per se. The assertion that the subject of the post is a traitor for enabling a morally agnostic institution to spy on his fellow citizens in violation of US law is a morally brave and commendable assessment, and does not imply any violence. As for guillotines, that one must have been deleted. I think you're taking these remarks from disparate commenters as evidence of a belligerent and unified exhortation and that's invalid.

And, just to be clear, I am borrowing "eliminationist" from you and using it to mean how Americans might have felt about Nazis at some point in history, and not something else.

I don't know why you chose this empirical example, but I wouldn't use any putative desire on the part of Americans to exterminate Nazis as a particularly useful comparative metric of bloodthirst. When war is waged, it's necessary to mobilize popular hatred of the enemy. Regular Americans were hardly calling for the streets of Berlin to run red with the blood of every German man, woman and child.
posted by clockzero at 5:23 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can you argue that the NSA has committed crimes against humanity, anemone?

I'm curious because I keep meaning to write an article claiming that basically they're committing crimes against human culture. In essence, I'd argue we're not ready for total surveillance because we've too much left to accept about ourselves. What if we'd invented the internet before gay rights? Would we make all homosexuals second class citizens or worse reeducate them? What if our cultural development is improved by many currently illegal drugs? Not because the artists need them but because some important fragment of the audience need to broaden themselves. What about when-not-if Saudi Arabia get ahold of our surveillance technology? etc. All this is a far cry from crimes against humanity though, well maybe not the Saudi Arabia thing, but the NSA funding surveillance to Saudi Arabia buying non-classified surveillance tech is at least a couple years.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:47 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are traitors. The NSA spy regime is a crime against humanity.

This is the kind of bold-face hyperbole I mean. NSA's domestic spying does not match the definition of "crimes against humanity" proposed by any widely recognized international body. Your attempt to equate domestic spying with events that are actually classified as crimes against humanity (q.v.) is in very poor taste.
posted by Nomyte at 6:12 PM on September 19, 2013


American tech companies like BlueCoat who sell surveillance capabilities to repressive regimes like Iran and Saudi Arabia are actively committing a crime against humanity, Nomyte. Are they torturing people? No. But they're damn well helping optimize who gets tortured, which definitely counts as a crime against humanity. I'll cheer if say the Syrian rebels kidnap BlueCoat's executives.

Imho, the NSA does not obviously do this because they seemingly honestly intend that all their surveillance technology stays bottled up. Is the fact that 80% of NSA funding flows to contractors creating technology that trickles down to dictators? Yes absolutely, but that's not enough. Is their sharing data with Israel a crime against humanity? Israel doesn't afaik torture anyone, so again not obviously.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:38 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


International organizations have repeatedly described crimes against humanity as events comparable to the Holocaust, Apartheid, and events in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Are you, in good faith, putting the actions of the NSA on the same level?
posted by Nomyte at 6:58 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was this part of another post?

Because now I think I understand the difference between funny and LOL.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:05 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are traitors. The NSA spy regime is a crime against humanity.

This is the kind of bold-face hyperbole I mean. NSA's domestic spying does not match the definition of "crimes against humanity" proposed by any widely recognized international body. Your attempt to equate domestic spying with events that are actually classified as crimes against humanity (q.v.) is in very poor taste.


It's absolutely not in poor taste. Do you think "crimes against humanity" are prosecuted with no bias whatsoever? Did you know, mr. international criminal law expert, that every single person indicted and convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes through the ICC persuant to the Rome Statute is African? With all the murderous bullshit and wholesale oppression that occurs in the world, how is it that only Africans are ever indicted? Could it be that "crimes against humanity" are construed with gargantuan bias against ever bringing a Westerner up on charges? It sure as shit looks like it, doesn't it? So even if the NSA spying regime were unambiguously constitutive of crimes against humanity, it would obviously never amount to jack.

And by the way, not that I need to remind you since you're clearly a human rights wonk, but the fucking Rome Statute defines crimes against humanity thusly:

For the purpose of this Statute, "crime against humanity" means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

Okay, the widespread/systematic criterion is clearly met here.

(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

The government is widely known to harass, detain, and otherwise immiserate Muslim and Arab people, in addition to non-ethnically-profiled "enemies" of the extra-legal state apparatuses that advance imperial and pecuniary interests. They surely identify them using institutional capabilities of groups like the NSA.

I'm not saying they have committed crimes against humanity, but they're far closer to doing so than your obsessively parsimonious moral imagination is apparently capable of perceiving.
posted by clockzero at 7:09 PM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Did you read my comment? I'd place BlueCoat, FinFisher, etc. on a roughly similar "conspiratorial" level with the Testa company because they know their product is being used to facilitate a "systematic torture practice", which qualifies as a crime against humanity. As I said, I doubt the NSA's actions qualify, but only because they honestly never plan on their tech falling into say Syrian hand. I'll happily listen to anemone's argument though.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:13 PM on September 19, 2013


I am glad that we have reached an understanding, gentlemen.
posted by Nomyte at 8:00 PM on September 19, 2013


Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, "are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape; political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice."

"Crimes against humanity" has generally been used to describe genocide, but the term can be used for other kinds of abuses as well. It could certainly meet the criteria:

-By spying on a large proportion of human communications, the NSA has launched a serious attack on human dignity. It means that people cannot organize and exercise their rights effectively, because the government already knows what they are planning and can act accordingly. It means that you cannot communicate with your sources without using strong crypto. It means that you cannot express your mind freely, out of fear that your words may later be twisted against you to portray you as a wrongdoer.

-Secondly, it is not an isolated or sporadic event. It's government policy, and is practiced on an absolutely unprecedented scale. It is also not just spying by itself: This massive surveillance regime is used to inform and empower a government that locks up whistleblowers, persecutes journalists, infiltrates activist groups, spies on religious minorities, and assassinates its own citizens without legal process.*

*Under a Democratic president. Just wait until the really right-wing party comes back into power.
posted by anemone of the state at 9:21 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


NSA sends a letter to its extended family to reassure them they will weather this storm
posted by anemone of the state at 9:45 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is an exchange between the Justice Department's PR guy Brian Fallon and USA Today's Brad Heath in which Fallon refuses to comply with Heath's FOIA request because Fallon wanted to exploit the information to support the official line. Is there even any pretense at legitimacy if FOIA requests are being processed through PR people?

"Heath had sent the DOJ a FOIA request to the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) asking basically whether or not the OPR had been involved in any investigation concerning the recently declassified FISA Court order, about how the NSA had misled the FISA court and abused its capabilities repeatedly. It certainly seems reasonable to try to find out if the DOJ then investigated those abuses and the NSA's misrepresentations to the FISA court."

Fallon said : "I have an answer from OPR, and a FISC judge. I am not providing it to you because all you will do is seek to write around it because you are biased in favor of the idea that an inquiry should have been launched. So I will save what I have for another outlet after you publish."
posted by jeffburdges at 5:19 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Time to tame the NSA behemoth trampling our rights
posted by jeffburdges at 5:59 AM on September 20, 2013


Excellent response, anemone of the state. The bit about what the next right-wing President will do with this is particularly insightful. Why the hell has the whole country forgotten about Nixon and his dirty tricks?

The thing that makes me angry about all this isn't just what the NSA is doing. It's that it's so difficult in this country to build up the national will to change something so obviously monstrous. It wouldn't be easy even if our government were functioning effectively -- that it isn't makes this miles harder.
posted by JHarris at 6:15 AM on September 20, 2013


"We recently learned that US intelligence agencies had at least three days' warning that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was preparing to launch a chemical attack on his own people, but .. the US government did not choose to act on that knowledge .."
- Bruce Schneier, The Limitations of Intelligence
via Another Reason The NSA Can't Prevent Terrorist Attacks : Protecting Its Methods Is More Important Than Protecting The Public
posted by jeffburdges at 7:17 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


welp
posted by entropicamericana at 8:24 AM on September 20, 2013


It's not at all unusual for intelligence agencies to have actionable intelligence which they can't act on. The soviets knew about the CIA listening tunnel under Berlin before it was ever built, but they couldn't do anything about it without exposing the agent, George Blake, who told them. Churchill knew in advance about the Coventry bombings but couldn't warn the public without revealing that the German ciphers had been broken. It's one of the central dilemmas of spycraft.
posted by sweet mister at 9:48 AM on September 20, 2013


Grumpy Cat builds a GNU Internet
posted by homunculus at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brazil's controversial plan to extricate the internet from US control
posted by homunculus at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I interpret the point not so much surprise that secrecy overrules lives as that secrecy overruled stopping a chemical weapons attack. It's important enough to go to war over, but not important enough to burn an intelligence asset on?
posted by jeffburdges at 4:57 PM on September 20, 2013


""We recently learned that US intelligence agencies had at least three days' warning that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was preparing to launch a chemical attack on his own people, but .. the US government did not choose to act on that knowledge .."

... most likely because it wasn't knowledge at that time, but was, in fact, just disconnected bits of intel. To suggest that the US "had at least three days' warning" is basically the same kind of B.S. conspiratorial crap used by 9/11 truthers.

"You knew about it ahead of time!"

No. The administration's own statement on this includes the fact that all this divergent intel "leads them to assess" the preparations for the attack, which was obviously easier to do after the fact. Not "led them to assess three days beforehand"... but rather that data gathered up to three days before the attack now "leads them to assess" such an assessment.

"Leads", the last time I heard, is a a simple present-tense verb. But hey, what do I know, with these young kids and their new math? Don't take my word for it. Do the research yourself.

Also, I find it amusing that bloggers are claiming that "The NSA Can't Prevent Terrorist Attacks" . . . " because "Protecting Its Methods Is More Important Than Protecting The Public"... based on the fact that prior accounts of the attack didn't mention PRISM's involvement in gathering info on the NY Subway Bombings.

C'mon... even the most cynical, anti-NSA individual amongst us simply would not believe that the government would ever have revealed PRISM's role in 2009 via a public report on the matter, any more than the DEA would reveal that anything other than a routine traffic stop just happened to find a truckload of crack cocaine. That doesn't mean that in either such case, a major criminal conspiracy wasn't stopped and the potential for lots of human misery averted.

The NSA could've saved tens of thousands of Americans over the last decade, and none of us would know it. And, of course, they do not have the authority to tell you that on the record -- and most certainly won't get into the technical specifics -- because that would compromise their intercepts and violate all sorts of laws... which is arguably a real issue, in that it makes it harder for the public to make informed choices regarding the NSA's effectiveness.

But the issue isn't that they "Can't Prevent Terrorist Attacks". It's that they can't tell you much about the specifics of how they have done so... even as the people who are falsely telling us that they can't prevent attacks are doing their darnedest to deny them tools they have at their disposal to do so.

That's why I have much more sympathy for Lessig's position. At least he admits that there are real threats out there that justify NSA surveillance, while still noting that we are all better off with them wielding a scalpel rather than a giant clown hammer.
posted by markkraft at 5:02 PM on September 20, 2013


In fact, the NSA, congress, etc. have all done a remarkable job of convincing us that NSA intelligence did virtually nothing to prevent any attacks, especially their tails claiming otherwise that we now know were lies. Also all thwarted I know about were created by the FBI. Has the NSA helped American companies in foreign negotiations? I donno, sounds considerably more likely though.

In any case, the chemical weapons attack really just adds evidence that the NSA doesn't do what ordinary people imagine it does to protect them. Yet, the NSA does find time to illegally share intelligence with the DEA.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:24 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


While you are right that there were, in fact, lies about NSA programs *cough*Clapper!*cough*, I have no evidence that such lies indicate that the NSA have been unsuccessful in stopping terrorist attacks... although they do hurt the NSAs mission.

But if you have specific evidence to the contrary, please cite it.

The NY Subway bombings apparently were cracked open a bit via a few email addresses... but take that kind of data and feed it through the NSAs systems, and suddenly you unlock not just a simple communication between two people who may be trying to be discrete... you potentially unlock the person itself, in the kind of way that data mining can oftentimes do more thoroughly than even long term surveillance. It almost assuredly gives you the kind of info you need to get a warrant and really ruin their day, which is basically what happened, it seems.

"In any case, the chemical weapons attack really just adds evidence that the NSA doesn't do what ordinary people imagine it does to protect them."

The NSA's prime focus since day one has been the interception and decryption of overseas communications, as a matter of national security. What do you feel they did in regards to intel intercepts from Syria that qualifies as not doing what ordinary people imagine they do?
posted by markkraft at 6:14 PM on September 20, 2013


... most likely because it wasn't knowledge at that time, but was, in fact, just disconnected bits of intel.

If you read the Schneier article beyond the pullquote posted here, it goes on to explicitly discuss exactly that suggestion:
The first possibility is that we may have had the data, but didn't fully understand what it meant. This is the proverbial connect-the-dots problem. As we've learned again and again, connecting the dots is hard. Our intelligence services collect billions of individual pieces of data every day. After the fact, it's easy to walk backward through the data and notice all the individual pieces that point to what actually happened. Before the fact, though, it's much more difficult. The overwhelming majority of those bits of data point in random directions, or nowhere at all. Almost all the dots don't connect to anything.
and is a factor in his concluding argument:
All of these explanations point out the limitations of intelligence. The NSA serves as an example. The agency measures its success by amount of data collected, not by information synthesized or knowledge gained. But it's knowledge that matters.

The NSA's belief that more data is always good, and that it's worth doing anything in order to collect it, is wrong. There are diminishing returns, and the NSA almost certainly passed that point long ago. But the idea of trade-offs does not seem to be part of its thinking.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:04 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Government is Spying on You: ACLU Releases New Evidence of Overly Broad Surveillance of Everyday Activities
posted by homunculus at 9:52 PM on September 20, 2013


"Yet, the NSA does find time to illegally share intelligence with the DEA."

You are arguing that the NSA does something illegal by supplying tips to the DEA, right?

But isn't your argument basically that the DEA gets that info, and then chooses to use parallel construction, which you consider to be illegal and unconstitutional?

Fine. So blame the DEA. Or blame the Supreme Court, who have made it clear in numerous, oftentimes unanimous ways that there are ways to justify just about any vehicular search, for damn near any reason. Or perhaps blame the First Congress, who both voted for the Bill of Rights and also voted to allow every ship or boat in the entire country -- from the rivers, to off the coast -- to be searched at any time for any reason, or blame the 13th Congress, who basically extended those rights to search to even more authorities, for any carriage or vehicle, of any kind whatsoever.

Of course, there is also the matter that it's not just the DEA, but also the FBI, Coast Guard, Secret Serivce, etc. that also presumably relies on parallel reconstruction.

It's easy to say "oh, well, drug crimes... the NSA shouldn't have anything to do with tip-offs regarding that!" ... but, of course, if the DEA tip offs shouldn't be used for drug crimes, why should they be used for any other case where the NSA finds out through authorized overseas surveillance that a crime is going to take place inside the US? Are there valid terrorist or assassination-oriented where NSA tips shouldn't be used, as well?

You can certainly disagree with the breadth of the NSA's mandate, and you can fight for legislation to change that, if it's important to restrict it. Until that point, though, it's hard to say that any NSA program is unconstitutional, as defined. And although the FISA court has shown itself willing to restrict the policies and practices of the NSA, neither they or the Supreme Court are going to make your argument for you right now.
posted by markkraft at 11:12 PM on September 20, 2013


But if you have specific evidence to the contrary, please cite it.

This is a weird aspect of this discussion. Because a lot of the evidence is locked up on purpose -- they say because of secret stuff, but we've seen examples now that much is kept secret because of its incriminating nature. I've said before that this deranges argument, because it justifies speculation. It makes it impossible to defend it by saying "there's no evidence," because of COURSE there's no evidence.
posted by JHarris at 12:04 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


We ultimately learned the NSA's domestic spying programs started three investigations, not found three terrorists, just started three investigations. Apparently the NSA cannot lay any bigger claims.

Those investigations went nowhere presumably, but they felt each was fairly serious. Or maybe they just found people FBI entrapped, but they'd rather avoid being associated with the FBI's terrorist training program.

Almost any tips provided by the NSA taint any evidence they help another law enforcement agency discover, markkraft. Parallel construction is the DEA's attempt to illegally use evidence, but the NSA are "conspirators" in that they know any evidence they provide either hurts the DEA's case or causes such illegal behavior.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:07 AM on September 21, 2013


"This is a weird aspect of this discussion. Because a lot of the evidence is locked up on purpose."

For obvious reasons... but none that justify Jeff's saying that they "did virtually nothing to prevent any attacks", or they can't lay any bigger claims, when, in fact, they have.

"Almost any tips provided by the NSA taint any evidence they help another law enforcement agency discover"

An NSA intercept is not, in itself, tainted evidence. It's not forged. It's not falsified. It's not illegal.

It's also been going on for some time. with not much of any serious attempt to hide it:
Although information from informants can quickly give direction to (a narcotics) nvestigation, any such information must be corroborated using other resources. Corroboration reduces the likelihood that informants will have to testify in court, ensures that the information obtained is reliable, and provides a cover for information that could lead investigative targets directly back to informants.

"Parallel construction is a law enforcement technique we use every day . . . It's decades old, a bedrock concept. . . As a practical matter, law enforcement agents said they usually don't worry that SOD's involvement will be exposed in court. That's because most drug-trafficking defendants plead guilty before trial and therefore never request to see the evidence against them. If cases did go to trial, current and former agents said, charges were sometimes dropped to avoid the risk of exposing SOD involvement."

So, even if it could potentially lead to tainted evidence if a case did go to trial, it's hard to imagine how you can taint one which never goes to trial, where the defendant confesses to the crime and pleas for a lesser charge.

I understand why you dislike the laws of the country,as they stand, but that doesn't mean that they are wrong or unconstitutional... or some sort of tyranny, for that matter. The system as a whole is imperfect, and that's just the way it is right now. Frankly, it actually makes me feel *somewhat* better that charges are sometimes dropped entirely, in that it does show that prosecutors aren't always trying to lie or mislead in these cases.
posted by markkraft at 6:43 AM on September 21, 2013


Until that point, though, it's hard to say that any NSA program is unconstitutional, as defined.

That's the trick, isn't it? By being a completely secret agency that resists all public judicial and congressional oversight there's no way to say what they're doing is illegal! It's almost like they planned it that way.
posted by Nelson at 8:12 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


To my way of looking at it, the NSA's scariest attribute is its ability to vacuum various sorts of information. They specialize in electronic collection. Their charter is to collect stuff from foreign sources. Given the way we interlock our commo worldwide, it's not unreasonable to see that their collections will dovetail with domestic commo. That could be a worrisome issue. But the writer's point, namely that they have more to do than fuck around with our private emails, is a good one.

My worries are more in the latent data, the megateragigabytes of info that gets stored, and reviewed at leisure. I guess some MeFites are into how this sort of stuff can be graphed, and opinions generated from it. Metademographics that show where we go, where the phone links converge, but also what we buy. Sort of a census derived, not from what we say, but from what we do.

If you think about it, commercial data miners do this on a second-by-second bases, and structure their profits to take advantage of that data. In some ways, this info has a positive use. It builds roads and ships goods. In other venues it produces inane commercials, and suggests plots for campaign ads, so that gerrymandering can be crossbred into your facebook account instead of just being limited to your voting district.

This issue is the problem of the benevolent dictator. So long as he loves us, and we trust him, then we give him power. The fear, then, is that when his son comes into power, it all goes to hell. But the real problem stems from the benevolent dictator's ugly cousins. Okay, I'm thinking about conservative think tanks here, but I can't wrap my metaphor around it.

Anyhow, the NSA offers us a chance to think about this in a realistic way. You can't put the genie back into the bottle. The trick is to get the genie to work for you, not against you. This is the argument now in play, in broader terms that has been unresolved since the framers tried to strike a balance between unionists and federalists. Who gets the power , and to what degree? The tendency is for the machine itself to suck up power; it creates its own gravity. Right now we may have gotten to the point where the machine cannot be controlled by anyone in particular.

Well, it's plain that we fear the NSA because we don't have a way to balance classified material with useful oversight. If you ask the average bozo on the street what he's afraid of showing to the government, what do you think he would say? The most sensible and understandable response might be along the lines of "Well, I'm not doing anything wrong, I just don't want them peeking in my bedroom window watching me do it." We can never tell whom we've put out to guard the henhouse: our watchdog or a fox. I don't see regulations being useful here. We are too caught up in our need for militaristic responses to civil challenge. Too much guns, not enough butter.

Were the issue black and white, I would say that the NSA is not my enemy, but rather look to the trail of profits that lead from our government to the, so called, military-industrial complex.
posted by mule98J at 10:02 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


mule98J: "Back in the day, when I was training for 98J school at Fort Devens, we used to dial up phone conversations on a piece of our training equipment during our breaks, and listen to conversations. This was possible because inter-district phone traffic in 1967 was transmitted between microwave towers, which could be tapped if you knew where to tune your receiver.

It was all in fun--something to do around the coffee urn, so to speak. We never tried to identify the speakers, or take any notes. Boyz just wanna have fun, so no harm done. I guess later on, about 1970 or so, the NSA liked to use this stuff to try to gather info on the Peace Coalition. They--the PC--actually had a TT network.

Anyhow, it was all for a good cause. I think. It's hard to remember all the details after all these years, and of course I didn't keep a journal about all that classified stuff.

I was an American too. Still am.
"

And back in my 2 meter radio days, we used to listen in to the unencrypted local police tactical radio channel.
posted by Samizdata at 10:58 AM on September 22, 2013


Samizdata,

Yeah, what if we could see into the radio spectrum? Northern lights all the time. It's like the sea: and we can see only the top of the water, so we get to ignore them.

For example: radar detectors for those who care, but the rest of us just don't worry about it. Good and bad depends on whether you are the guy getting the ticket or the guy laughing at him as you pass, mashing your motor in the fast lane. Seems impossible to get everybody on the same page at the same time.

I used to tune a stereo receiver to pick up a classified emission in the 19.995 MHz area. It's not there anymore. It used the be the transponder beacon on a Soviet Satellite. I would do this in the PX, fooling around with the stereos that were on display: any 98Js who happened to be in the room at the time would hear the signal and cringe.
posted by mule98J at 11:59 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


mule98J: "Samizdata,

Yeah, what if we could see into the radio spectrum? Northern lights all the time. It's like the sea: and we can see only the top of the water, so we get to ignore them.

For example: radar detectors for those who care, but the rest of us just don't worry about it. Good and bad depends on whether you are the guy getting the ticket or the guy laughing at him as you pass, mashing your motor in the fast lane. Seems impossible to get everybody on the same page at the same time.

I used to tune a stereo receiver to pick up a classified emission in the 19.995 MHz area. It's not there anymore. It used the be the transponder beacon on a Soviet Satellite. I would do this in the PX, fooling around with the stereos that were on display: any 98Js who happened to be in the room at the time would hear the signal and cringe.
"

Worse than worse, not only did I hang around with the ham crowd, but I also had some friends from the comm troop from nearby Vandenburg AFB. (I think they should have all retired by now.)

And as I posted in another Blue NSA thread....

WTH. It took me years to tamp down my tinhat brigade predilections. Why oh why is there a rabbithole this goddamn deep?
posted by Samizdata at 2:01 PM on September 22, 2013


Free Software Foundation (FSF) is even more relevant now than ever before

You broke the Internet. We're making ourselves a GNU one.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:25 PM on September 22, 2013


NSA Posts Opening For "Civil Liberties & Privacy Officer"
posted by jeffburdges at 6:34 AM on September 23, 2013


Spilling the NSA’s Secrets: Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger on the Inside Story of Snowden Leaks
posted by homunculus at 9:26 AM on September 23, 2013


NSA employee spied on nine women without detection, internal file shows: Twelve cases of unauthorised surveillance documented in letter from NSA's inspector general to senator Chuck Grassley
posted by homunculus at 5:03 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


NSA stores metadata of millions of web users for up to a year, secret files show
posted by homunculus at 10:14 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


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