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‘PRISM: The SIGAD Used *Most* in NSA Reports!’
November 4, 2013 1:15 PM   Subscribe

How would you, as a junior analyst in S2C41, the branch of the Signals Intelligence Directorate, navigate the millions of records logged daily, in order to find the nugget to get you noticed? “EVILOLIVE, MADCAPOCELOT, ORANGECRUSH, COBALTFALCON, DARKTHUNDER: the names are beguiling. But they don’t always tell us much, which is their reason for existing: covernames aren’t classified, and many of them – including the names of the NSA’s main databases for intercepted communications data, MAINWAY, MARINA, PINWALE and NUCLEON – have been seen in public before, in job ads and resumés posted online.” Daniel Soar sorts through the possibilities in the London Review of Books, 24 Oct 2013. (See also William Arkin's blog on codenames)

Previous discussions of Daniel Soar's intelligence reporting: 1, 2
posted by zbsachs (33 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a good article.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:17 PM on November 4, 2013


Lewd did I EVILOLIVE, EVILOLIVE I did dwel.
posted by box at 1:18 PM on November 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


For me, the LRB is the only publication worth subscribing to besides the Economist. Consistently interesting and in-depth articles. It makes the NYRB read like Newsweek by comparison.

That said, it's crazy that it took this long for someone to write something about the NSA leaks that wasn't either unbridled hysteria (as pandered by Glenn Greenwald et al.) or "hurr durr necessary for our security!"
posted by anewnadir at 1:33 PM on November 4, 2013


Have I missed it, or has someone along the way reported on the volume of material that Snowden handed over? It always seems like there's More To Come...just curious to know what sort of trove The Guardian et al are actually sitting on.
posted by jquinby at 1:43 PM on November 4, 2013


Yeah, this is definitely the most attention to detail in interpreting what has (and has not) been released that I've seen in a non-specialist venue, and even at this length there are still many subjects not even brought up.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:44 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


cstross is getting a good laugh out of all the capital letters, I'm sure.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:53 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Excellent link zbsachs!
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:54 PM on November 4, 2013


anewnadir, Newsweek : Economist :: NYRB : LRB is pretty good but, well, I still have problems with the Economist, myself. Also, I will take any excuse to repost this comment by Neville Morley on Crooked Timber—
The Bennet household is in desperate need of far-reaching reform, as it faces up to the consequences of nearly two decades of profligacy and maybe-an-heir-will-turn-up short-termism. Its structural over-production of daughters and unrealistic estimations of future prospects, however, driven by a fixation on landed property and a pervasive anti-business and anti-trade snobbery, and the lackadaisical attitude and resistance to change of its leader, suggest that it will continue to be out-performed in the marriage market by more forward-looking neighbours willing to accept conversational austerity as the price of financial security and the condescension of Lady Catherine de Burgh…
posted by zbsachs at 1:56 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Have I missed it, or has someone along the way reported on the volume of material that Snowden handed over? It always seems like there's More To Come...just curious to know what sort of trove The Guardian et al are actually sitting on.

I haven't seen anything in depth on the scale/volume either - Greenwald and Poitras are the only folk with full access to the stuff, so only those two and Snowden would have any idea (assuming Greenwald is telling the truth about who has access).

The Guardian probably aren't sitting on anything - I really can't imagine Greenwald leaving them a goodbye present that juicy before heading off to join Pierre Omidyar.
posted by jack_mo at 2:00 PM on November 4, 2013


Both questions of how many and who has them are very uncertain and nobody has given a clear answer on that.
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:11 PM on November 4, 2013


If nothing else, the Snowden leaks are a great way to find your next band name.

But that's only 50% of a good band. You still need guitars and stuff.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:15 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Joshua Foust is a stooge for the government and his "reporting" is laughable propaganda.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:16 PM on November 4, 2013


Have I missed it, or has someone along the way reported on the volume of material that Snowden handed over? It always seems like there's More To Come...just curious to know what sort of trove The Guardian et al are actually sitting on.

The month-old Glenn Greenwald and Janine Gibson AMA on Reddit (shudder) addresses this in a vague way, particularly this answer and this answer.
posted by Dr. Send at 2:17 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


. . . it's crazy that it took this long for someone to write something about the NSA leaks that wasn't either unbridled hysteria (as pandered by Glenn Greenwald et al.) or "hurr durr necessary for our security!"

Bruce Schneier and others have produced quite a bit of reporting based on the Snowden documents. Many of these folks are difficult to responsibly dismiss as "hysterics" (and that last link is just to Guardian articles - there are others in Le Monde, Spiegel, on Brazil's Globo TV network, etc.)

The Guardian's impressive "Decoded: What the NSA Files Mean for You" of yesterday being only one example. To dismiss the large and growing body of reporting from dozens of international sources as nothing more than "unbridled hysteria" is lazy.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:31 PM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


There is also a growing body of academic literature and white papers from organizations not prone to hysteria - a few recent examples:

The End of the American Network [Communications of the ACM]

Making Sense from Snowden: What's Significant in the NSA Surveillance Revelations [IEEE Security & Privacy]

How Much Will PRISM Cost the U.S. Cloud Computing Industry? [Information Technology & Innovation Foundation]

What the Government Does with Americans' Data [Brennan Center for Justice]

NSA Surveillance Leaks: Background and Issues for Congress [Congressional Research Service]
posted by ryanshepard at 2:52 PM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bruce Schneier and others have produced quite a bit of reporting based on the Snowden documents. Many of these folks are difficult to responsibly dismiss as "hysterics" (and that last link is just to Guardian articles - there are others in Le Monde, Spiegel, on Brazil's Globo TV network, etc.)

If we are going to mention Bruce Schneier in this thread it's worth noting that he considered the posted article to be a "good summary."
posted by Going To Maine at 3:09 PM on November 4, 2013


I wish to salute once more the actual, gloriously and quintessentially British GCHQ program codename CHEESY NAME
posted by Bwithh at 3:27 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, if you don't like Foust then perhaps you could provide a better answer for how many documents there are and who has them.
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:36 PM on November 4, 2013


Here's another good list of codewords, makes for some fun browsing. Please let me know if you feel the author is a government stooge.
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:52 PM on November 4, 2013


new PRISM programs to include CONFUSEDCONCEPT, NOOVERSIGHTWANTEDHERE, GULDUKATSHIPPOCAMPUS, ROMULANSPEEDBALL, DRPUNCH'STHIRDNOSE...
posted by oonh at 4:10 PM on November 4, 2013


Ok, if you don't like Foust then perhaps you could provide a better answer for how many documents there are and who has them.

When I do, I will certainly try to do better than wrap some random numbers I pulled out of my ass around an article that exists nearly entirely of strident and shrill ad hominems against Greenwald. To quote an example from Foust:
Many of these changing numbers have come from Glenn Greenwald, who was recently offered protection by Brazil’s totally not-abusively violent police services
That's not reporting. That's sleaze by a sleazeball, when what Brazil does or does not do has absolutely no bearing on the subject of how many documents Snowden released.

Here's another gem from the same piece:
Snowden has also explicitly graymailed the government by threatening to release everything onto the internet if he feels sufficiently threatened — damage be damned.
Either Foust is stupid or lying, because Snowden set up a dead man's switch to distribute keys to (real) journalists in case he goes dead or missing, which is quite a different characterization from "feeling threatened".

Foust is a stooge. I just hope he gets paid well for his transparent stoogery.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:12 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just looking at kiltedtaco's list of codewords. Odd b/c normally single words (SENTINEL, PITCHFORK) are generated and reserved for one sort of thing and double words (CANNONLIGHT, SHIFTINGSHADOW) for something else but I can't see the logic here.
posted by fingerbang at 4:53 PM on November 4, 2013


I like the way he captures the sales and marketing aspect to many of the leaked documents - all of these tools are being advertised to various NSA sections as the best tools for the job:

They are more like internal sales brochures aimed at the analysts, bigging up the benefits of one method over all the others. ‘PRISM,’ one introductory slide says, ‘The SIGAD Used Most in NSA Reporting.’​ A series of bar charts shows how relatively rubbish other forms of collection are by comparison. The presentation’s author, PRISM’s own collection manager, proudly notes the ‘exponential’ growth in the number of requests made through the system for Skype data: 248 per cent. ‘Looks like the word is getting out about our capability against Skype.’

The system about which most detail is given, thanks to a presentation that begins with the question ‘What can you do with XKEYSCORE?’, sells itself by advertising – in a bullet-pointed list – its ‘small, focused team’ that can ‘work closely with the analysts’. There’s...a strong sense of startup culture: XKEYSCORE’s philosophy is ‘deploy early, deploy often’, a weaponised version of the Silicon Valley mantra beloved of Facebook engineers, ‘ship early, ship often’. Some handy use cases are listed: find everyone using PGP encryption in Iran, find everyone in Sweden visiting an extremist web forum. ‘No other system’ – these words highlighted in red – ‘performs this on raw unselected bulk traffic.’ There’s an endorsement from the Africa team, declaring that XKEYSCORE gave it access to stuff from the Tunisian Interior Ministry that no other surveillance system had managed to catch. It’s not unlike a washing powder ad. One of the things these slides are most revealing of is the marketplace within the NSA. At your desk in S2C41, as you sit down to find the best way to home in on dodgy goings-on by senior Mexicans, you have a whole menu of sexy tools to choose from.

posted by mediareport at 6:02 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Either Foust is stupid or lying, because Snowden set up a dead man's switch to distribute keys to (real) journalists in case he goes dead or missing, which is quite a different characterization from "feeling threatened".

Greenwald says:

“It’s not just a matter of, if he dies, things get released, it’s more nuanced than that,” he said. “It’s really just a way to protect himself against extremely rogue behavior on the part of the United States, by which I mean violent actions toward him, designed to end his life, and it’s just a way to ensure that nobody feels incentivized to do that.”
posted by nightwood at 7:25 PM on November 4, 2013


When it comes to ANY "Intel Assessment", I keep in mind to focus on CAPABILITIES, NOT INTENT.

The US Government has the CAPABILITY to record and store every phone call, VoIP call, cellphone call, email, instant message you send and every website you visit.

This ends our assessment of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the US Government.
posted by mikelieman at 11:31 PM on November 4, 2013


Brazil admits it spied on U.S. and other diplomats

Greenwald Outraged!
posted by Ironmouth at 11:31 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The US Government has the CAPABILITY to record and store every phone call, VoIP call, cellphone call, email, instant message you send and every website you visit.

You left off: "every thought you thunk"
posted by nightwood at 4:45 AM on November 5, 2013


Brazil admits it spied on U.S. and other diplomats

Greenwald Outraged!


There's a (somewhat) related article in Foreign Affairs: The End of Hypocrisy: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Leaks. (Not sure if it's shown up in other Snowden threads.)
posted by Going To Maine at 8:03 AM on November 5, 2013


Oh poop. Requires a subscription for y'all to continue reading. Curse me & my access! On the other hand, someone has reposted the article over at cryptome.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:05 AM on November 5, 2013


DOJ Refuses To Let Tech Companies See Legal Arguments It's Making Against Them
posted by jeffburdges at 8:23 AM on November 19, 2013


Our Government Has Weaponized the Internet. Here’s How They Did It
techdirt excerpt : End-To-End Encryption Isn't Just About Privacy, But Security
posted by jeffburdges at 8:30 AM on November 19, 2013


NSA Admits That Edward Snowden Stole Up to 200,000 Documents
posted by jquinby at 4:34 PM on November 19, 2013


Singapore & South Korea help the NSA tap undersea cables; Japan refused

Pressure Mounts Against Telcos To 'Fess Up About Their Involvement In NSA Surveillance

NSA's Has A 50,000 Computer Botnet From Secretly Installing Malware Around The Globe
posted by jeffburdges at 5:29 AM on November 25, 2013


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