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NSA SEXINT
November 29, 2013 2:08 PM   Subscribe

NSA SEXINT is the Abuse You’ve All Been Waiting For. According to documents revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has been gathering records of online sexual activity and logging visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to blackmail and silence those advocating "radical" beliefs.
posted by anemone of the state (156 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
Glenn Greenwald wrote earlier about being the target of personal attacks and smears in relation to a New York Daily News story about his past connections to an LLC involved in the adult video industry.
posted by anemone of the state at 2:10 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


How about they start with members of the Tea Party?
posted by Ber at 2:14 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think glossing over the very real difference between Hoover's activities against US persons and gathering discrediting info about people who're implied but not identified as not USpers does the authors any good.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 2:15 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


from anemone of the state's link:
I'm 46 years old and, like most people, have lived a complicated and varied adult life. I didn't manage my life from the age of 18 onward with the intention of being a Family Values US senator. My personal life, like pretty much everyone's, is complex and sometimes messy.

If journalists really believe that, in response to the reporting I'm doing, these distractions about my past and personal life are a productive way to spend their time, then so be it.

None of that – or anything else – will detain me even for an instant in continuing to report on what the NSA is doing in the dark.
*standing ovation*
posted by en forme de poire at 2:16 PM on November 29, 2013 [98 favorites]


en forme de poire: "*standing ovation*"

Yeh, except that this is just a muscular version of the "I don't care about privacy because I have nothing to hide" canard. I will stand as well to applaud Greenwald but this argument weakens the cause, rather than strengthens it.

Privacy is a good unto itself. It's not about whether you have something to hide or not.

It shouldn't matter. Leave everybody alone!
posted by chavenet at 2:27 PM on November 29, 2013 [24 favorites]


Why go to all the trouble to collect this data when you could more easily fake it?

And even if you did have either real or fake data about a suspected terrorist's porn habit, how would you use it to discredit them?

This seems like it would only be useful for meddling in domestic politics.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:29 PM on November 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


While the NSA says they are going after "Terrorists", they seem to be actually going after opinion leaders, and people who are allegedly influencing bad behavior.

The NSA needs terrorists and bad guys in order to succeed- the real existential threat to the NSA is not Al Quaeda, but Congress- and, like Hoover before them, there's a pretty strong likelihood that they are spending more time monitoring the source of their funding than their ostensible targets.

Trawling sex sites to embarrass radical islamists is likely just an excuse- once they have the records from one person's interaction with the site, they all of the records from that site. Nothing in their recently revealed behavior suggests they have behaved with restraint once traffic comes to the water's edge. They no longer deserve the benefit of any doubt.


How about they start with members of the Tea Party?

Sure, just like Obama joked about the IRS auditing his political enemies- which sure as hell seems to have happened- certainly without his collusion, but doesn't this seem horribly corrosive?
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:31 PM on November 29, 2013 [23 favorites]


Why go to all the trouble to collect this data when you could more easily fake it?
Never mind - this is how the NSA announces that it has the capability. Next election cycle, they start faking up the kiddy porn.

Snowden has been working under deep cover for the NSA all along.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:34 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


But I LIKE horses!
posted by Max Power at 2:35 PM on November 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't think glossing over the very real difference between Hoover's activities against US persons and gathering discrediting info about people who're implied but not identified as not USpers does the authors any good.

Greenwald is American, though, right? Was it okay for the NSA to direct the US and UK governments and media outlets to go after him?

If the premise is that going after non-Americans is different from what Hoover did and therefore okay, then where does that leave the NSA after their actions against an American citizen?

One has to admit, whether going after Americans or non-Americans, using private consensual behavior as a wedge is usually creepy stuff and certainly not often emblematic of American ideals of personal liberty and agency, with notable exceptions for those who are powerful but are complete hypocrites who hurt others (Larry Craig, Charlie Crist, Ken Mehlman, most of the Tea Party, etc.).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:35 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


@Max Power: You aren't supposed to like them that much. Senatorship denied.
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:36 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


How about they start with members of the Tea Party?

Brilliant! People with political differences are to be blackmailed for their private personal and legal behavior.

You, sir, are a a tyrant.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:37 PM on November 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


You, sir, are a a tyrant.

Okay, I laughed. Great stuff!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:38 PM on November 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Why go to all the trouble to collect this data when you could more easily fake it?

Because it's much more effective to psychologically brutalize someone using their real life habits.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:42 PM on November 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's pretty adorable that the NSA thinks that in this day and age you could shame anyone under 40 with this stuff.
posted by dry white toast at 2:44 PM on November 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


How about they start with members of the Tea Party?

They're no threat to anything the NSA cares about. I'll bet a lot of the bureaucrats are 'members'.

And if they've wiretapped any 'Libertarians' like Paul or Cruz, the most embarrassing thing it could reveal is how much they privately support what the NSA's doing.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:44 PM on November 29, 2013


chavenet, I hear you, but I think it's clearly distinct from saying "you should have nothing to hide." For one thing, he's not saying that other people shouldn't need to keep secrets. If anything, he's saying there are indeed things that he might prefer to keep out of the public eye, and acknowledging that they might be used to try him in the court of public opinion. I saw that statement as part of a general pattern of his courageously assuming risk in order to continue the reporting he's doing, so that others (who might be more vulnerable) wouldn't have to.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:45 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think the only solution is for all of us to stand together as a nation and get really heavily into Neopets slashfic.
posted by Nomyte at 2:47 PM on November 29, 2013 [62 favorites]


Metafilter: You, sir, are a a tyrant.
posted by Bovine Love at 2:47 PM on November 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


It's pretty adorable that the NSA thinks that in this day and age you could shame anyone under 40 with this stuff.

Isn't this more about discrediting radicals in the eyes of militant Jihadists - who presumably do care about whether the people they listen to are engaging in online promiscuity and impure sexual behaviors or whatever? I'm not defending the practice at all, but it does seem like it might be reasonably effective in terms of crippling your support base, if that support base considers sexual purity to be very important to the moral cause of Jihadism (as opposed to more liberal strains of Islam which are more lenient, or the general American secular mindset, etc.)
posted by naju at 2:49 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't run in those circles or anything but I don't recall hearing any kind of backlash against Osama bin Laden when the Navy Seals found his porn stash. I expect the hardcore jihadists are of the view that sexual purity rules only apply to women. Isn't that always the way?
posted by wabbittwax at 2:57 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Damn. Just one goat. Just one!
posted by jfuller at 2:59 PM on November 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


'.. the targets are not necessarily terrorists. The term the NSA uses for them is "radicalizes," and if you're thinking of fiery orators urging people to strap on dynamite vests, know that the NSA chart accompanying the story includes one target who is a "well known media celebrity," and whose offense is arguing that "the U.S. perpetrated the 9/11 attacks."'
posted by jeffburdges at 3:00 PM on November 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


This has less to do with personal failings and more to do with the Puritanical nature of the media. The total reliance on outrage for advertising dollars and the complete lack of positive conflict resolution in any aspect of life, including but not limited to international affairs. 12 years later and all we are still doing and know how to do is fight wars. Forgiveness is out of the question. "I was glad to point out the problem because what I thought you wanted was perfection."

Also, what the NSA really needs to be doing is keeping track of OkCupid and Match profiles. Holy shit the nonsense that is on there.
posted by phaedon at 3:02 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Isn't this more about discrediting radicals in the eyes of militant Jihadists - who presumably do care about whether the people they listen to are engaging in online promiscuity and impure sexual behaviors or whatever?

What? No, of course not. No one cares what militant Jihadists are wanking to. Everyone under and over 40 cares about child pornography. It's the other Godwin. It's why we infiltrated TOR and the nation cheered. Insinuating that someone is in any way involved with child pornography is a great way to silence people.
posted by Nomyte at 3:02 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ex-NSA Agent gets 11 years for Security Leaks, Child Porn

And how does this fit in with "parallel construction"?
posted by anemone of the state at 3:09 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]



It's pretty adorable that the NSA thinks that in this day and age you could shame anyone under 40 with this stuff.


it's not uncommon for teachers to get fired when their sex lives become public.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:09 PM on November 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


'.. the targets are not necessarily terrorists.

What? No, of course not. No one cares what militant Jihadists are wanking to.

I didn't say that - I'm talking about the goal of NSA being to cripple support of "radicals" (whether they're Jihadists, media celebrities or scholars) primarily where that support is coming from Jihadists / fundamentalists. Maybe wabbittwax is right that they don't care as long as it's dudes, but I think you actually would be discredited in the eyes of fundamentalists if it came out that you were engaging in sexually promiscuous talk with "inexperienced girls" online. That doesn't mean that it's OK for the NSA to do this - I don't think it is - but I think the clarification of intent is important.
posted by naju at 3:09 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeh, except that this is just a muscular version of the "I don't care about privacy because I have nothing to hide" canard. I will stand as well to applaud Greenwald but this argument weakens the cause, rather than strengthens it.

No, they're threatening him and he's calling their bluff. He obviously cares about privacy (otherwise why bother with any of this?), but he's saying explicitly that it's something he's prepared to lose in order to defend the principle.
posted by klanawa at 3:12 PM on November 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


the NSA chart accompanying the story includes one target who is a "well known media celebrity," and whose offense is arguing that "the U.S. perpetrated the 9/11 attacks."'

I mean, are his followers going to believe the government's evidence if they are already truthers? Some people claim the Assange rape allegations were cooked up by a CIA conspiracy. When you get down to it, people can have more trust than they should in influential people they admire.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:28 PM on November 29, 2013


en forme de poire: "I saw that statement as part of a general pattern of his courageously assuming risk in order to continue the reporting he's doing, "

I agree, which is why I applaud Greenwald.

Also what Klanawa said.

But we aren't all Greenwald and yet we all deserve our privacy, whether or not we have something to hide.

I think what Greenwald is doing is 100% noble and his personal sacrifice is astounding.

It just shouldn't have to be that way.
posted by chavenet at 3:34 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


OK assume the NSA is spying on a key terrorism target, the kind of guy who influences violent cells, the kind of guy who gets contacted by terrorist plotmasters.

To blackmail him you're going to inform him you've logged his computer activities?

That is so stupid it borders on parody. They are not going to do that. Period. 0% chance. ZERO.

They will keep spying on him as part of ongoing intelligence gathering. They will learn his network and anybody who attempts to contact him for approval for their terrorist plots.

Blackmail? That is so stupid whoever thought of that story should be fired.
posted by surplus at 3:38 PM on November 29, 2013


Greenwald is American, though, right? Was it okay for the NSA to direct the US and UK governments and media outlets to go after him?
Modern version of the old thing:

"First they came for the foreigners, but I did not speak out because I was not a foreigner."
"When they came for me, they didn't care that I wasn't a foreigner because that's just a bullshit excuse anyway."

Actually nevermind, that's exactly the same as the original.
posted by swr at 3:42 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think what Greenwald is doing is 100% noble and his personal sacrifice is astounding.

It just shouldn't have to be that way.


No argument from me!
posted by en forme de poire at 3:43 PM on November 29, 2013


Isn't this more about discrediting radicals in the eyes of militant Jihadists - who presumably do care about whether the people they listen to are engaging in online promiscuity and impure sexual behaviors or whatever?

initially, yes, but it's a slippery salope.
posted by hal9k at 3:53 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why go to all the trouble to collect this data when you could more easily fake it?

Why go to all the trouble to fake it when you can only target one person at a time that way? If it's known, or even suspected, that you're watching everybody, people will police themselves. Everybody will think twice before they say or do anything. That's the beautiful thing about a surveillance state. People behave differently if they think they're being watched.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:57 PM on November 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


I wish I could even understand admirers or supporters of the NSA or groups like them. Are you that scared? Life must be terrifying, I empathize, but maybe build a blanket fort instead of making the world a more fucked-up place for humans?
posted by maxwelton at 4:11 PM on November 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


To clarify: It's perfectly OK to do whatever you want to the bogeyman "other" as long as they're not US citizens? That's so fucked up on so many levels there's not even a place to begin a conversation.
posted by maxwelton at 4:14 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I hope NSA aren't easily bored.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:20 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's pretty adorable that the NSA thinks that in this day and age you could shame anyone under 40 with this stuff.

In everyday conversation? Probably not. When the local newspaper is running a story about how you were fired from your teaching job for writing erotica? Yes. When your pornography viewing habits are offered up as evidence in court during a custody hearing? Yes.
posted by northernish at 4:21 PM on November 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


Why go to all the trouble to fake it when you can only target one person at a time that way? If it's known, or even suspected, that you're watching everybody, people will police themselves. Everybody will think twice before they say or do anything. That's the beautiful thing about a surveillance state. People behave differently if they think they're being watched.
The thing is, people aren't going to stop being human, with all of the vulnerabilities that entails. Instead, they will become self-concious of those vulnerabilities, and try to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

That is the real danger here. "Just keep your head down" is bad enough when working in a company circling the drain, but when it infects society as a whole, that is really bad news.
posted by swr at 4:21 PM on November 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wish I could even understand admirers or supporters of the NSA or groups like them. Are you that scared? Life must be terrifying, I empathize, but maybe build a blanket fort instead of making the world a more fucked-up place for humans?

It's borne out of an incapability of imagining how people might rid themselves of these institutions and live happily without them, and a fear that any privileges one currently enjoys might disappear should unjust systems be replaced.

Better to cash paychecks and not rock the boat.
posted by anemone of the state at 4:25 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


It looks like the left needs to find and cultivate a few people with squeaky-clean backgrounds who can act as a media-proof front for all us normal people with normal kinks and other normal abnormalities.
posted by pracowity at 4:54 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Imagine you were a US Senator, with a private, harmless kink, that never-the-less would kill your political career.

You already know the NSA is gathering Internet traffic wholesale, but then you hear they're actively gathering information for the purpose of discrediting, or shaming people it considers enemies.

When the next vote comes up to limit their funds, or increase oversight and transparency, wouldn't some small part of you, even if they never explicitly made the threat, feel coerced?

The intrusion into our private lives is a very pervasive threat.
posted by Static Vagabond at 4:57 PM on November 29, 2013 [24 favorites]


"Hey everybody! This guy likes sex!! Look at his fetishes! What a fucking weirdo, right?!?!!"

"Uhh, how'd you find this out?"

"We kept a database of all his porn searches and searched through his emails! Anyway, what a creeper, huh?"

"..."
posted by Evernix at 5:14 PM on November 29, 2013 [42 favorites]


Damn. Just one goat. Just one!

We have information that would indicate otherwise.
posted by NSA at 5:28 PM on November 29, 2013 [30 favorites]


I wouldn't be so skeptical about the effectiveness of this type of operation. I read some of the leaked memo the other day on reddit and got the impression that the people executing this are obviously very intelligent and savvy, and would know how to deploy private secrets of this nature to discredit people in an effective way. Also, if I'm not mistaken, these people targeted aren't like, Al Qaida lieutenants, they're more like clerics and celebrities who inveigh against the west and are perceived as pious. So the NSA could leak their secrets without worrying about it allowing a terrorist plot to happen.

Also, once everyone believes the NSA knows everything, they can fake things at will. All it really takes is an allegation to discredit someone. You could be so right in your cause as a political activist, but you can't really come back from being accused of watching child porn, or whatever.
posted by malapropist at 5:31 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's pretty adorable that the NSA thinks that in this day and age you could shame anyone under 40 with this stuff.

That's what I thought when I was reading the articles about 'revenge porn' the other day. But clearly there are still a few people who appear to have problems with naked photos of themselves online, and I assume that they would also have problems with their porn habits/etc being widely known.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:46 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


jfuller: "Damn. Just one goat. Just one!"

He built ships that crossed the ocean, but do they say 'jfuller the shipbuilder'?
Single-handedly took down nine opponents in a single night, but do they say 'jfuller the boxer'?
posted by jquinby at 5:47 PM on November 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Maybe I've been overly paranoid my whole life, but there hasn't been a single moment in my life that I have not operated under the presumption that any and all of my online activities were traceable if so desired by the government. In my teens this led to me being ridiculously adament about PGP'ing everything I ever did/sent.

I mean seriously, in this Panopticon societ we live in why are people up in arms over this? Is it manufactured anti-government sentiment for the (R)'s to harp on? Is it because people are okay with everyone knowing everything, as long as it isn't the government?

Also, Snowden is a douchecanoe.
posted by mediocre at 5:49 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mediocre:

So, no one should have a problem with the panopticon because you've been paranoid for years? The critiques of the NSA are purely partisan harping from antigovernment republicans? Somehow critiques of government ubiquitous surveillance imply complete comfort with private databases of unimaginable scope? Finally, Snowden is a 'douchcanoe' for revealing all of this?

This is your position?

I should have flagged and moved on, but your post seems pretty much trolling.
posted by el io at 6:06 PM on November 29, 2013 [22 favorites]


I don't think glossing over the very real difference between Hoover's activities against US persons and gathering discrediting info about people who're implied but not identified as not USpers does the authors any good.

I don't think pointing to Hoover's actions and claiming that it's qualitatively different from this is doing you any favors. I know it isn't doing the country any.
posted by JHarris at 6:12 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Imagine you were a US Senator, with a private, harmless kink, that never-the-less would kill your political career.

Then imagine your name was David Vitter... turns out you CAN become a Senator! Diapers and all.
posted by Max Power at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I imagine a future in which cunningly designed internet worms and viruses in a thousand permutations cause absolutely every IP address in the world to acquire a genuine record of sordid, illegal, immoral, and otherwise distasteful connections and activities, all dutifully recorded by the NSA infrastructure.

Allegations of immoral on-line behavior against a jihadist cleric will become exactly as credible as similar allegations against the president of the United States; both allegations will have perfectly valid and correct "paper trails," both of which will be equally meaningless.

The US State Department will call the existence of the worm, which renders the NSA's multi-billion-dollar, Constitution-shredding spy network useless, "an act of state-sponsored terrorism," which will turn out to be technically true in some unhelpful way.
posted by Western Infidels at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The thing about this that bothers me the most, and there are plenty of things that bother me about it (for example, the occasional person claiming somehow that this isn't a big deal -- there's always someone) is that it means the NSA has taken it upon themselves to decide how radical is too radical. They've positioned themselves as gatekeepers of normality, and to punish those who don't fall into line with it.

Whatever the NSA thinks is normal now, it's going to seem quaint in fifty years.
posted by JHarris at 6:59 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


...with a private, harmless kink, that never-the-less would kill your political career...

Selma: Are you gay?
Troy: Gay?! I wish! If I were gay they'd be no problem! No, what I have is a romantic abnormality, one so unbelievable that it must be hidden from the public at all cost. You see...
Selma: Stop!
posted by 445supermag at 7:03 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not that I am attempting to troll. I just do not understand how people can live in this "Panopticon", everything revealing society where simple Google searches reveal more then most people even realize about themselves and then by shocked when the government is revealed to be doing the same. No, I do not think that they (the NSA) should be doing so. But I do not see how people can react as though it is a revelation. People have been relatively aware that Google has the capability to put together profiles on people if they wanted that would reveal more about the average user than anyone would ever be comfortable with for years with only the occasional alarmist blog article written about it. But when the government is revealed to have the same capability, it is an outrage.

Like the a "kill switch" I read talking about the US government where it was revealed to have the capability/legal authority to use in whatever instance they deem it necessary that would effectively switch off all internet and wireless communication in America. It was treated as an outrage and amazing abuse of power, etc etc. But the "kill switch" as alarmist as it may sound to talk about it is something that doesn't technically even exist, only existing as potential. Something that in the early 90's was written into the digital reformation or whatever during the Clinton administration. But bringing it up now, allows for more anger to be directed probably unnecessarily to the NSA.

A lot of it for me, admittedly, comes to a "nothing to hide" philosophy. But really, what the NSA is capable is not far beyond anything a really determined hacker is and is sadly not as distant as it should be for anyone to find simply from people being overly willing to lay their lives out in social media.
posted by mediocre at 7:22 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just do not understand how people can live in this "Panopticon", everything revealing society where simple Google searches reveal more then most people even realize about themselves and then by shocked when the government is revealed to be doing the same.

Well I mean to me the answer is pretty simple. This is a prison you cannot touch or see. The upside is music, videos, images, education, efficiency, popularity, money, cloud storage, the ability to stay in touch with all your friends. The shackles are $600 iPhones. Who doesn't want one? Who remembers that the iPod - the foundation of Apple's meteoric rise to the top - started out as non-DRM? Is Tim Cook going to keep the torch lit for the people?

We call it "piracy" when the rights of movies are invaded. We say "well you're not paying for it anyway" when Google scans your emails. Where are the rights of the people? I am hopeful that things work out at the end. In the meantime, why aren't the Republicans screaming bloody murder? Oh that's right. Corporate money influences politics. Way to go, Supreme Court.

You see this "illusion of choice" everywhere. Go to 7-11 and look at the aisle by the cashier. Nachos, Fritos, Funyuns, donuts, ice cream, hot dogs and slurpees as far as the eye can see. Shat out by some machine thousands of miles away infused with man-made chemicals designed to make you feel good. Welcome to utopia.
posted by phaedon at 7:48 PM on November 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


mediocre, the capabilities of the NSA far outstrip the capabilities of any "really determined hacker" and to paint it otherwise is a pretty willful and/or ignorant distortion of reality.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


"Cell" phone? Seems like that Batman movie.
posted by saber_taylor at 8:47 PM on November 29, 2013


If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
   --Voltaire
      --Keith Alexander
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:07 PM on November 29, 2013


What's interesting is how this whole NSA wiretapping thing has proved the paranoid conspiracy theorists right and wrong at the same time. On the one hand, it seems the paranoids were right all along. The government was, in actuality, recording everything we say and do on our phones and computers. On the other hand, this was yet another reminder just how bad people are at keeping secrets -- even the most powerful people in the world. I mean, judging by how unprepared the administration was for this event, they must have thought they could keep this a secret forever. Instead, the program (in its present form) lasted less than a decade before someone blew the whistle. And this is the part that gets me. I mean, the NSA surveillance is such a huge project, involves the complicity of so many people, and is morally objectionable to so many people, I can't even imagine the audacity it must have taken to have assumed that nobody would blow the whistle.

Then again, lots of people who should have known better genuinely thought Iraq had WMDs. I suppose groupthink is a powerful thing.
posted by evil otto at 10:46 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are."
    -- "The Social Contract," Jean-Jacques Rousseau
posted by phaedon at 10:47 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


One thing I wonder about, though : will this problem eventually sort itself out? I mean, you have companies like Twitter and Microsoft beefing up their encryption; the founders of Lavabit and Silent Circle teaming up to create an email protocol that can't be snooped; the TOR network, which even the NSA couldn't effectively compromise, etc. I mean, yeah, if the NSA shows up at your doorstep with a national security letter and demands you hand over your data, you have to give it to them. But there's nothing illegal about avoiding technologies that are known to have been compromised. Likewise, there's nothing illegal about creating or using technologies that can't be compromised.

Of course, I'm sure someday the NSA will find a way to break these new technologies, but once the techies get wind of it (via the next Snowden) they'll make new technologies to outwit the NSA. What's sad, really, is how unnecessary the whole thing is. I mean, by now, it's become obvious that terrorism was just a flimsy pretext for the NSA's unprecedented access to our communications. And sure, I'm sure it's helped them catch a few criminals or "terrorists". However ... have you noticed that, whenever they talk about their successes ... there aren't any big showstoppers? Sure, some of it has to remain secret for national security purposes or whatever, but if they wanted to make a case for the technology, now would be the time to do it. They haven't done a really good job so far.

The whole thing is essentially a big massive fishing expedition. I mean, the Boston Bombers were just two dumbfuck kids, and the NSA didn't catch them. Or think back to 9/11. We had intercepted transmissions that clearly indicated something was up, but didn't have enough Arabic speakers. And the list goes on. It's the same problem : signal vs. noise. As someone who works with big data, it's been instructive to see that even big data has its limits. I mean, the NSA has no oversight, an unlimited budget, and a fuckton of ridiculously smart mathematicians. And with all of that, they haven't done anything particularly impressive. It's almost as if it's not about catching criminals or terrorists at all; more that they want to set a precedent of having total access to our information. And I guess that's the thing that scares me. If they're allowed to hack routers and get into your personal network, is there anything they CAN'T do?
posted by evil otto at 11:08 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


(and I promise this is my last post here for a while)

From a purely technological perspective, it's disappointing how little actual innovation there was at the NSA. I mean, lots of technologies we know and love started out as weapons or space program byproducts. But what has the NSA done to further the technology? So far as I can tell, they used their privileged status to make demands that no private citizen could make, and whatever data they couldn't get that way, they got through plain old-fashioned back doors and hacking. Really nothing innovative there. I don't think we, as citizens, will ever benefit from this. What a fucking waste.

It would be a lot more impressive if they could get actionable information by analyzing publicly-available data. It may even be more effective.
posted by evil otto at 11:24 PM on November 29, 2013


But there's nothing illegal about avoiding technologies that are known to have been compromised. Likewise, there's nothing illegal about creating or using technologies that can't be compromised.

Not yet.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


$11 billion budget for NSA doesn't seem like much to me, when compared to technology companies.
posted by saber_taylor at 11:44 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


$11 billion budget for NSA doesn't seem like much to me, when compared to technology companies.
You don't compare them, you sum them.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:46 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


(okay, I lied)

To expand on my previous point : even if you're going to assume that applications like PRISM or XKEYSCORE are effective (quite a big stretch, in my mind), they're only going to be effective against known targets. This amounts to protecting yourself against yesterday's attacks : "known knowns" and "known unknowns", to use Mr. Rumsfeld's terminology. However, if you limited yourself to publicly available data, you would be forced to look for "unknown unknowns" -- which, as history tells us, are the attacks that cause the most damage. That would be a positive use of this technology, and I don't think I would even necessarily be against it. Hell, they could even make it open-source. Of course, that's assuming this kind of data mining is effective at all -- or more effective than standard policework -- which I seriously, SERIOUSLY doubt.
posted by evil otto at 11:48 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, that's assuming that this kind of data mining is effective at all -- or more effective than standard policework -- which I seriously, SERIOUSLY doubt.
The problem isn't its lack of effectiveness. The problem is its lack of effectiveness for its stated purpose. The reason to oppose the NSA's recent work is that it is primarily useful for interfering with the healthy operation of a democratic nation.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:52 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


True. But I don't think there's anything wrong with data-mining pe se, as long as it was limited to publicly-available data. The problem was that the NSA did things that, while abiding by the letter of the law, egregiously and obviously took a big stinky shit all over our fourth amendment rights. Even the dude who wrote the Patriot Act thinks the NSA took an "overly broad" interpretation of the law.

It's like, you know you're doing something illegal when people can prevent your attack through completely legal means.

But more to your point : the NSA data mining just doesn't stand up to the classic "risk vs. reward" test. I mean, I can think of a few movie plot scenarios where I'd be okay with secret NSA data mining. Like if we were under attack by mega robot Nazis, and we were already doing all the "common sense" standard police work to stop them, and it was proven that PRISM and XKEYSCORE were highly effective against mega robot Nazis. In that case, I'd be willing to give up some privacy. However, we are very clearly not in that situation.
posted by evil otto at 12:04 AM on November 30, 2013


I think the national conversation is shifting to Obamacare.

Bill Clinton: "I did something for the worst possible reason - just because I could." SSL certificate management is insecure. DNS is insecure, or so they say. Email is plaintext (although I guess with major providers your email is cryptographically signed). I don't think people want to be bothered with secure computing, other than to meet insurance requirements.
posted by saber_taylor at 12:15 AM on November 30, 2013


True, but think about it... I don't think Twitter and Microsoft are beefing up their security out of the kindness of their hearts. They have an obligation to provide a certain level of security for their users -- some of whom are not Americans. It kind of becomes a liability issue at a certain point.

It's just sad to me to see my government being criminals. Like, this is the kind of shit we expect from the Russian mafia. And even they are only interested in your money and identity. They could give a fuck what porn you look at.
posted by evil otto at 12:17 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This fits nicely with the Abu Ghraib porno-torture that the US pioneered a few years back. Remember that not only were prisoners subjected to painful sex-torture (sodomised with objects etc) and degradation but that also photos were taken constantly.

This stuff was not usually done to extract information like they do on '24', but in order to create informers - you send the guy back out there with the threat of exposure if he doesn't comply. It obviously worked well enough for the programme to be extended to everyone.
posted by colie at 1:26 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some people claim the Assange rape allegations were cooked up by a CIA conspiracy.

After this latest revelation, is there still anyone who doubts this anymore?
posted by spitbull at 2:20 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


True. But I don't think there's anything wrong with data-mining pe se, as long as it was limited to publicly-available data.

It is not. Not unless you consider information ordinarily only available to hackers to be "public," in which case anything transmitted over the internet is fair game. It really shouldn't be.

It's like, you know you're doing something illegal when people can prevent your attack through completely legal means.

This is a non-sequitur.

I mean, I can think of a few movie plot scenarios where I'd be okay with secret NSA data mining.

I cannot, short of any situation that doesn't involve the return of the Great Old Ones (for more on this scenario, check out the Laundry books).

After this latest revelation, is there still anyone who doubts this anymore?

It certainly casts a bad light on the allegations, indeed any allegations involving people who have done something the United States government doesn't approve of. And that's corrosive, acid on the gears of justice -- it makes people distrust the word of law enforcement.
posted by JHarris at 2:41 AM on November 30, 2013


JHarris : I feel like you haven't read my comments very closely.

Here's the full paragraph that you took that quote from :

True. But I don't think there's anything wrong with data-mining pe se, as long as it was limited to publicly-available data. The problem was that the NSA did things that, while abiding by the letter of the law, egregiously and obviously took a big stinky shit all over our fourth amendment rights. Even the dude who wrote the Patriot Act thinks the NSA took an "overly broad" interpretation of the law.

I am no defender of secret NSA surveillance.

I mean, I can think of a few movie plot scenarios where I'd be okay with secret NSA data mining.

I cannot, short of any situation that doesn't involve the return of the Great Old Ones (for more on this scenario, check out the Laundry books).


My point is that the secret NSA surveillance doesn't pass the cost/benefit test, and in order to do so, we'd have to be in a situation that's a million times more dangerous than our current one. In fact, if we were in such a dire situation, NSA surveillance would probably be the least of our worries. Sadly, lots of people don't apply a cost/benefit analysis to this sort of thing. Mostly it has to do with a misunderstanding of risk and probabilities. Schneier has done some good writing on this, on how doing things like showing the 9/11 footage repeatedly can make a person's amygala (the part of your brain that responds to fear) go into overdrive. When people are afraid, they make stupid decisions, and are willing to give up untold liberties if it brings them closer to "safe".

But back to my original point, although I don't really want the NSA wiretapping program to survive in any form, if it were limited to publicly available data, I wouldn't have as much of a problem with it. I mean, there's nothing stopping you or me from doing the same thing.
posted by evil otto at 3:01 AM on November 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "... I assume that they would also have problems with their porn habits/etc being widely known."

A number of people on this thread do not seem to be getting that people can lose their jobs, lose their kids, have their lives threatened, or face other horrific consequences as a result of activities that are perfectly legal and completely harmless. So, yes, there are people who "have problems" with their porn habits being widely known. In many cases, it is because they are aware what that can mean.
posted by kyrademon at 3:44 AM on November 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Again, - spitzer, Edwards, wiener, vitter, Radel, Scott Ritter-- all just bad luck right? None of them made enemies with anyone at the NSA?
posted by empath at 4:08 AM on November 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


JHarris : I feel like you haven't read my comments very closely.

Yes, I see that you don't think you're defending the NSA. You say you'd be okay with it if it were limited to publicly available data. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. If they limited to that, then it wouldn't take them billions of dollars to organize it, they wouldn't have to operate until such a heavy veil of secrecy, they wouldn't have opportunity to blackmail lawmakers and citizens, many of us wouldn't be so scared about the direction the country is headed -- in short, we wouldn't be talking about any of it. So I don't really see what your point is. You seem to be saying, effectively, if the lizard were a cat, then it would be a cat.
posted by JHarris at 4:41 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I seem to be hearing less and less of the tweets along the lines of "This Snowden thing is played out and over, they should stop releasing stuff."

I agree that piecing it out every month or two is the way to go, since, you know, news sucks and isn't good at dropping everything at once.
posted by jscott at 4:44 AM on November 30, 2013 [3 favorites]



Was it okay for the NSA to direct the US and UK governments and media outlets to go after him?


when did that happen?
posted by jpe at 5:16 AM on November 30, 2013


Maybe, long-term, we have to make it impossible, illegal, or just impractical to fire someone or effectively threaten them whenever their legal but embarrassing habits are publicly revealed.

Maybe we have to change minds so that it becomes socially unacceptable to get on your high horse whenever you hear something morally embarrassing about someone. Our collective (and probably legal response) needs to be "Who gives a shit? It's none of my business."
posted by kaymac at 5:29 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


it makes people distrust the word of law enforcement.

Sorry, that horse has long fled the barn. In fact that horse has died of old age and the barn has burned down. Trust law enforcement?
posted by umberto at 6:02 AM on November 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe we have to change minds so that it becomes socially unacceptable to get on your high horse whenever you hear something morally embarrassing about someone.

>Time machine.
>Sink boat carrying Puritans.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


JHarris -- my point is this : massive data mining is not a priori evil. Shitting on the fourth amendment is. I'd even go a step further and say that a data mining system that was limited to public data would be more useful and interesting than one that defecates on my rights. A system that only mined public data wouldn't even have to be terribly secretive. In fact, it may even be a good idea to open it up to average citizens and give them a chance to spot patterns themselves. Crowdsourcing, essentially. Of course, it would have to be a vastly different system, less target-oriented and more focused on trends and patterns. But if I had to take a guess, I'd say publicly available information is more likely to yield the "unknown unknowns" than the current practice, which is essentially a fishing expedition. And ultimately, a data mining system limited to publicly-available data would be no more intrusive to our rights than Google or any other search engine.
posted by evil otto at 7:12 AM on November 30, 2013


Reading Mefi threads on the NSA is like watching Fox on Benghazi. The verdict of "guilty" was in long before any facts were known, so the only thing anyone is interested in from any new facts brought before the tribunal is "can we imagine a way in which this adds to the guilt of the accused"--and, wonderfully, the answer is always "yes."

Nothing in this report provides a shred of an iota of evidence to support the wild theories being promulgated here (that the NSA is routinely targeting Western liberal journalists with blackmail based on their internet browsing histories, for example). Indeed, as with almost all of Snowden's revelations, you pretty much have to assume he's an NSA plant if you really want to run with the full "OMG, all the conspiracy theories are true!" line. Because either he's releasing deliberately doctored stuff or the NSA is a much tamer agency than we all used to think (I find it hilarious, for example, that the old "they're recording everything we say!!!" canard crops up in this thread: a claim that was advanced routinely prior to the Snowden revelations--in fact one was considered naive if one doubted it, right here on Metafilter, by the very people who now routinely proclaim that no one ever suspected how far the NSA's were invading our privacy. If the NSA is recording all our phone calls then Snowden is either an NSA plant or everything he leaked was deliberately fed to him by the NSA in some kind of weird sting operation. Because whatever else we think the NSA is doing, Snowden and his documents can't be on the up and up if they're doing that).
posted by yoink at 7:19 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Evernix: "Hey everybody! This guy likes sex!! Look at his fetishes! What a fucking weirdo, right?!?!!"

"Uhh, how'd you find this out?"

"We kept a database of all his porn searches and searched through his emails! Anyway, what a creeper, huh?"

"..."


That's all part of the misdirection. With the leaks by Snowden, Assange, et al, the national conversation shifted from "look what these guys found!" to an attack on the messenger in the blink of an eye. "A giant domestic sigint dragnet mining the data of all Americans? Old hat! This Manning guy is a crossdressing weirdo!"

It's startlingly effective.
posted by dr_dank at 7:21 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


NSA proposes using oldest tradecraft in the spy business against persons outside the US. Film at 11.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meinerseits begrüße ich unsere neuen Stasi-Oberherren.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:34 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It identifies one of them, however, as a "U.S. person," which means he is either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

I'll remember to stay in the country so the government can't decide my speech is radical and sexually blackmail me. But hey this is old news we all learned about in 3rd grade social studies, YAWN YAWN.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2013


Meinerseits begrüße ich unsere neuen Stasi-Oberherren.

Im Pullach.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:50 AM on November 30, 2013


NSA proposes using oldest tradecraft in the spy business against persons outside the US. Film at 11.

Is it also acceptable for Putin to use the same technique to target pro-democracy or LGBT-rights activists in the US? After all, he would be targeting non-Russian persons outside of Russia. When are these techniques acceptable, and when are they unacceptable? Is it always acceptable for other countries to defend their interests using the same methods as the United States? Is there any non-US person against whom the US should not use these techniques, or is it always okay to do so? Do you think that excessive use of basic spycraft techniques against foreign but nonstate actors might have negative consequences?

I'm not trying to be cute; these are serious questions. I sincerely want to understand your position, and you are one of the few people here able to deliver a sincere and substantive defense of NSA behavior. But I honestly have no idea what you believe, other than that you acknowledge certain things happened and that you are not bothered that they happened.
posted by compartment at 8:58 AM on November 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


@ compartment: the risk, as far as I'm concerned is the conjunction of intrusive spying with the police power. if Russia wants to intercept my emails I don't find it unconscionable, because I'm outside their jurisdiction.

I don't want them to? but its not some grave crime against humanity (what they do with it is a different matter)
posted by jpe at 9:22 AM on November 30, 2013


Well, this is bad news for me, that's for damn sure. I'll be sure to keep out of any political movements - my secrets are creepy enough to tar them.
posted by crazy socks for mister crazypants at 9:48 AM on November 30, 2013


yoink: Reading Mefi threads on the NSA is like watching Fox on Benghazi. The verdict of "guilty" was in long before any facts were known

This is an utterly false statement.
posted by anemone of the state at 10:25 AM on November 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


Is it also acceptable for Putin to use the same technique to target pro-democracy or LGBT-rights activists in the US?

It would be hilarious if Russian intelligence tried to "expose" a gay rights activist for having gay porn on his personal computer.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:00 AM on November 30, 2013


Reading Mefi threads on the NSA is like watching Fox on Benghazi. The verdict of "guilty" was in long before any facts were known

Discussion about the NSA and Snowden got started on Metafilter in early June 2013, around the time Clapper got caught lying to Congress about collecting data on everyone.

Sen. Ron Wyden: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"
Clapper: "No sir. Not wittingly."

It wasn't until Snowden's revelations that Clapper's perjury was discussed. Before that point in time, it was conspiracy theorists who claimed the NSA were snooping on all our private communications, and any claims of that sort would get dismissed as delusional ravings. Now we know that the conspiracy theorists were right and those delusional ravings were actually pretty accurate.

Of course, unlike Fox's claims about Benghazi, you can check all of this yourself, yoink. Sorry to bring you down with an accurate history lesson of how things happened on this site, though!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:02 AM on November 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


Reading Mefi threads on the NSA is like watching Fox60 Minutes on Benghazi. The verdict of "guilty" was in long before any facts were known
FTFY... actually, it's impossible to 'fix' all the distorted thinking in yoink's relatively short comment. It sounds like the talking points of an actual NSA disinformation program. I hope he's getting paid well.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:10 AM on November 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Look, the site isn't a hive mind. Alternative points of view have been offered in every thread on NSA. It would be nice to keep offering and debating our points of view rather than discussing past threads as if the site was a monolith of opinion on this.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:20 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Officially agreeing - let's not get hung up on yoink's view, or conversely on "what Metafilter thinks"; the metacommentary on who-here-thinks-what is kind of a derail from discussion of the actual program.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:21 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The NSA versus “Issue-Based Extremists”
posted by homunculus at 11:23 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


the founders of Lavabit and Silent Circle teaming up to create an email protocol that can't be snooped;

Speaking of Lavabit: Lavabit Strikes Back at Feds in Key Internet Privacy Case
posted by homunculus at 11:33 AM on November 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's what I thought when I was reading the articles about 'revenge porn' the other day. But clearly there are still a few people who appear to have problems with naked photos of themselves online, and I assume that they would also have problems with their porn habits/etc being widely known.
So... The NSA, the CIA, the FBI, these are inherently misogynist institutions?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:56 AM on November 30, 2013


This kind of power is fundamentally too dangerous. The information is too useful not to be used; it will be used, and for the wrong reasons. To allow this to continue is a grave mistake.

They believe they have a right to all of your communications. Not just phone, internet, or postal mail, but everything, anything you say to anyone at anytime, anywhere. There is no _principle_ difference between a conversation between two people on the phone, email, IM, or sitting at a table having coffee.

They do not have this right.

We have to decide if we believe in ideas like Democracy, individual liberties, and the rule of law, or if these are just fairy tales we tell our children because "the real world doesn't work that way".

Just as so many "patriots" seem willing to discard Democracy as soon as their candidate loses, we (the US) have abandoned these ideas because of fear. If we're ready to abandon these ideas as soon as they become inconvenient, then we really don't believe in them.
posted by and for no one at 12:05 PM on November 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Oh the apologists have arrived!
posted by spitbull at 12:33 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't know at what point we went from being an "all you have to fear is fear itself" country to a "BE AS SCARED AS YOU HUMANLY POSSIBLY CAN" country, but I wish we'd change back.

And no, I don't think it was 9/11 alone that did it. It's a negative feedback loop, and it's been going on for a while. Once one politician raises the specter of terrorism, their opponent must up the ante, lest they appear soft on terrorism.

Sadly, I think the best way to end this NSA nonsense is to start asking for results. Appeal to Republicans' small government, low tax ethos. At a certain point, a massively expensive system that fails to justify its cost becomes unattractive to a certain kind of conservative -- especially if it comes with a hefty PR price tag. Oh yeah, and a few of them may be troubled by the whole fourth amendment thing.

I think it's safe to demand results because there's no way this system could possibly justify its costs, both in terms of money spent and liberty lost. Not to mention the opportunity costs incurred by wasting some of the country's greatest minds on something that's at best useless, at worst downright evil. It will only ever be good for analyzing yesterday's threats.
posted by evil otto at 12:35 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


What I hate is that NSA's focus has shifted from Al-Quaeda to "issue-based extremists." That is to say, anyone with a strong opinion.

The Lavabit case above troubles me a bit, because the courts in this area have generally been unhelpful. FISA's roster is appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and is nearly entirely Republican, which probably explains much of its rubber stamp character. But the courts have been trending right for a while, possibly in part because of Congress' refusal to approve Obama's appointments.

I can't help but think much of this was engineered so that, the next time Republicans take the reins of power, they'll have all the apparatus of a distopian nightmare ready-made for use.

evil otto, those conservatives have been on the outs for awhile now. The current breed only pays lip service to financial responsibility; when it comes to their favorite departments (like the military and law enforcement), they'll spend more than anyone.

What 9/11 did was to take the deep authoritarian leanings that had always been there and gave them center stage. If it had happened under anyone else than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, it wouldn't have turned into such a reality warper. But it did happen, and it happened under them, and it if hadn't been them it probably would have been someone else, eventually.
posted by JHarris at 12:45 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


What I hate is that NSA's focus has shifted from Al-Quaeda to "issue-based extremists." That is to say, anyone with a strong opinion.

Another sleight of hand I've noticed is how administration spokespeople want to frame the issue as "this system is necessary to protect us". Well, that's something we can debate about. But very few are (publicly) arguing that we were better off not knowing about it, because there's really no way to say that without insulting the American people.

Notice how effectively they've distracted us from the really troubling part -- the fact that it was all done in secrecy, without our permission or solid constitutional backing -- and instead focused the debate on the technology itself. Ironically, the technology itself isn't evil. I mean, companies we know and love use data mining every day, and we're totally cool with it because they don't ask much of us and they make our lives better. So the argument about the technology is more nuanced, and, lets face it, it's not too hard to make something already complicated sound SO complicated that your average person throws up their hands and doesn't even try to make sense of it. I think if we were to shift the argument back to "we deserve to know about these things, and we damn well better have a say in the matter", we could rouse a lot of people who already essentially agree with us.

Notice how all the news outlets refer to Snowden as "whistleblower Edward Snowden", not "spy Edward Snowden" or "traitor Edward Snowden". It's like, deep down, we (or at least the news outlets) have tacitly agreed that what Snowden did was morally correct. We should bring him back to the fore. Brave, articulate, moral, and without any real explotable character defects. Given the circumstances, we couldn't have hoped for a better hero. Hell, our last big whistleblower, Deep Throat, turned out to be a grey-suited government hack. Snowden's personal story has great potential to reach a lot of people.
posted by evil otto at 1:03 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why Care About the NSA? - Brian Knappenberger Op-Doc
posted by jeffburdges at 1:28 PM on November 30, 2013


On a different track, I'm curious as to Obama's real feelings on the NSA. I always assumed privacy was a horse he was willing to trade in order to accomplish other parts of his agenda. His statements on the subject haven't been very convincing, that's for sure.
posted by evil otto at 1:45 PM on November 30, 2013


It'd be nice to think he's as troubled by all this as anyone. But the fact is, as head of the Executive, few people have as much ability to do something about it as he does, and he hasn't. That doesn't bode well for his opinions.
posted by JHarris at 2:04 PM on November 30, 2013


I'm actually not all that clear on the nature of the relationship between the President and the NSA. Could somebody please enlighten me?
posted by evil otto at 2:13 PM on November 30, 2013


Part of the difficulty there is that the NSA's structure, itself, is secret. But the director is appointed by the President, so presumably the President can override what he says.
posted by JHarris at 2:34 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other news: Dutch intelligence agency AIVD hacks internet forums
posted by homunculus at 2:35 PM on November 30, 2013


NSA is part of the DOD.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:41 PM on November 30, 2013


Ah. Well, the President is Commander in Chief. That would seem to make it clearer. Or does it?
posted by JHarris at 2:55 PM on November 30, 2013


one of the few people here able to deliver a sincere and substantive defense of NSA behavior.

I have yet to see a sincere and substantive defense of the NSA here on metafilter. Such a defense would have to consider the sordid history of state surveillance in this country.

Why Does Anyone Trust the National-Security State?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:57 PM on November 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Look, Edward. These scandals are interesting and all, but I still want to know what the numbers stations are for.
posted by schmod at 6:25 PM on November 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


They are messages from the future warning us about the rise of a national-security state.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:22 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is Poindexter still involved with all this BS or was he just the guy who rolled the boulder off the cliff?
posted by specialk420 at 10:37 PM on November 30, 2013


On the topic - potential terrorists: Assume your veterinary transactional data is part of the dragnet, in case you weren't already aware.
posted by specialk420 at 10:53 PM on November 30, 2013


It's not about terrorists, and it was never about terrorists. Governments love terrorists because they offer a pretext for oppression.

It's about power for its own sake. It's about control. It's about blackmailing politicians worldwide. It's about giving favoured firms insider info, silencing dissent, and controlling what people talk about, how they organise, and eventually how they think.
posted by anemone of the state at 1:21 AM on December 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Some people claim the Assange rape allegations were cooked up by a CIA conspiracy.
After this latest revelation, is there still anyone who doubts this anymore?


Yes. Just because the NSA has done this, doesn't mean all rape accusations are lies, and rape apologia using NSA programs as a basis is no less rape apologia than any other kind.

That said, Ironmouth is completely correct. This has been going on for a long, long time. That's why there used to be a lifestyle polygraph, so that they could make sure you weren't doing anything funky in your private life you could be blackmailed by into betraying them. The only difference now is it involves internet and political enemies rather than other spies.
posted by corb at 8:44 AM on December 1, 2013


1. Background investigations and polygraphs have never been aimed exclusively at other spies. Excluding political enemies from the cleared population is an obvious objective of the background investigations that are done prior to granting a security clearance.
2. The difference between a foreign spy and a political enemy is one of degree, not kind.
3. "[i]nternet and political enemies" really means "political enemies", as the Internet is just a communications channel. The Internet adds some new challenges, but the fundamental goal of keeping the country's secrets is unchanged.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:09 AM on December 1, 2013


The NSA's org chart
posted by homunculus at 2:50 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some spook thinks she or he can silence my politics because of my love for animated ASCII art erotica. I'm not ashamed.
posted by humanfont at 5:06 PM on December 1, 2013


I'm not ashamed.

Not yet.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:06 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Who Is Watching the Watch Lists?
posted by homunculus at 10:51 PM on December 1, 2013


Instead of blackmailing people, how about using that talent and surveilance in cracking down on internet CP and human trafficking?
posted by stormpooper at 7:31 AM on December 2, 2013


Because child pornographers and human traffickers aren't trying cost multinationals money or cost politicians power?   Also, why take effective measures against activities useful for scaring the general populace into giving up their civil rights?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:27 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think if we wanna win this argument, we should try not to accuse the other side of operating in bad faith, even if that's what we think, deep down.

Think about it. If we can show people that the NSA's disregard for our fourth amendment rights doesn't make us safer from terrorists, is a giant waste of money, and represents a completely wrongheaded approach to security, we can win the argument without putting potential allies on the defensive. I mean, you and I know the technology isn't effective, but lots of people out there may believe the hype. Likewise, lots of people are still in CONSTANT FEAR mode, and may be more willing than you or I to sacrifice our liberties. Like it or not, these are the people we must win over.

The upshot is that we truly do have the truth on our side. The NSA's system is not particularly effective, and in fact, there are far less invasive practices that are far more effective.

And we never even have to say, "the real motivation behind the NSA datamining program is to vitiate our fourth amendment rights." If we prove that it's costly and ineffective as well as intrusive, the people defending the system have to come up with some other reason for wanting to keep it around. I think they'll have a tough time with that.
posted by evil otto at 11:42 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess the main parallel I'm making is with the War On Drugs. I feel like common sense approaches to drugs and addiction have made a lot of headway over the past few years, and I think it's mostly because, as a culture, we've accepted that the War On Drugs was abysmally ineffective, and also because a recession really tends to make people re-evaluate expensive, useless programs.

Both the War On Drugs and War On Terror could be seen as land grabs on the part of those who would purposefully curtail our liberties. However, by emphasizing their coss and ineffectiveness, we avoid having to argue about the motivations behind the drug war. It's a good argument to avoid, because if you're like me, you may thing the war on drugs wasn't even well-intentioned. It's a clear cut issue for me, but I don't doubt there are good people out there who believed all kinds of lies about drugs because they were scared or lacked the facts. By focusing on the ineffectiveness of the War on Drugs or the War On Terror, we give the conservatives a way to drop support for those programs without feeling like they were bad people for supporting it.
posted by evil otto at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


(coss = costs)
posted by evil otto at 11:55 AM on December 2, 2013


Numerous cities are installing listening devices on buses to eavesdrop on passnegers—And the feds are footing a lot of the bill.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:21 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


As their power grows and consolidates, the window for organizing effectively and fighting back is closing.

True leadership means being the first to act.
posted by anemone of the state at 1:06 PM on December 2, 2013


True leadership means inspiring people to follow you. Think of it this way : if we are to assume there are malign characters at work who intentionally want to rob us of our liberties ... we're not going to change their minds anyway. Our only hope is to change the minds of the people who support them.

I remember, not too long ago at all -- hell, I'm thinking the early 90s -- when drug reform, even marijuana law reform, was this super ultra fringe issue, no politician in their right mind would touch it with a 10 foot pole. And look at where we're at now!

The NSA thing is going to be more difficult, because they're SO secretive and SO not answerable to the US population; unlike with marijuana legalization, we can't just vote on a "dissolve the NSA" ballot measure. But I think there are parallels. There was a time when your average person feared the drug menace nearly as much as people now fear terrorism. For the longest time, it seemed hopeless, drugs were such a third rail in American politics.

There were a number of factors that led to the current sea change on the subject, but I think the largest factor was the numbers themselves. Drugs are cheaper, stronger, and more available than ever before, and this is after devoting ridiculous amounts of money and effort, and so many many lives lost, all for nothing. And drugs were used as a pretext for trampling on our fourth amendment rights long before 9/11.

I'm not saying it's going to be easy or that it'll happen any time soon. But ultimately, the numbers will speak for themselves. Big data is not the panacea people think it is, and over time, it'll become increasingly obvious that taking a losing strategy (focusing on the targets) and magnifying it a millionfold doesn't make it a more effective strategy.

As a side note, something the NSA is now discovering : if your "secret sauce" depends entirely on secrecy, once somebody finds out your secret, all your hard work has gone down the drain. Security through Obscurity.
posted by evil otto at 1:24 PM on December 2, 2013


Yeah, I think if we wanna win this argument, we should try not to accuse the other side of operating in bad faith, even if that's what we think, deep down.

The NSA's activities are so laughably over-broad that they, themselves, are examples of how they've acting in bad faith. Go back and look at the text of the FPP. You don't have to project bad motivations on their part; this is outright proof of it.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 PM on December 2, 2013


I wish I could assume that, because it would make the whole thing easier to swallow. The scary reality is that there are people out there who really think we need secret, rights-invading government data mining in order to be safe. I don't remember where I read it -- may have been Scheneier, maybe somewhere else -- someone who had access to the Snowden documents made a note of how much of the Powerpoint slides were devoted to back-patting and reminding themselves that they were doing something good and wholesome and necessary. I think it all comes back to groupthink. I mean, thinking back to the Iraq war, I was never convinced by the goofy movie plot scenarios Bush & co were using to cajole us into war. And I was just a dumbass college kid! There were grown-ass people, whole agencies and departments, powerful people who allegedly had better access to information than I, who thought Saddam had WMDs. Groupthink is a powerful thing, and I don't think it's been studied enough.

I think it's possible that the groupthink at the NSA was even more pathological than that within the federal government during the time of the Bush administration. I mean, I have no idea what it's like to work at the NSA (and I would never want to have that kind of job anyway), but think of what a reality bubble it must be. The very structure of the agency is secret! I can't imagine you're allowed to discuss anything about your job, even with your spouse. So the only people who you talk to about your work are the people you work with and your bosses. And of course, if you're working on that system to begin with, chances are you felt at least a little bit good about it going into it. And I'm sure everyone there wants to reinforce that feeling. So I could easily see how they'd wind up living in a world that's different than ours. I mean, they had an unlimited budget, unlimited access to information, and zero oversight. There was literally nobody in a position to give them a reality check. What a silly, dangerous way to run such an ostensibly important arm of our government. Such a total Cold War mentality.

And I mean, the idea of using big data technologies to keep us safe is not a bad one, necessarily. They just took the wrongest possible approach to the situation -- the one most likely to trample our liberties, and least likely to uncover showstopping world-destabilizing events.
posted by evil otto at 1:44 PM on December 2, 2013


The war on democracy: How corporations and spy agencies use "security" to defend profiteering and crush activism
posted by homunculus at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


NSA/CSS employees are authorized to share the following points with family and close friends.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:58 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


The NSA's Thanksgiving Dinner Talking Points: A Play in One Act
posted by homunculus at 7:33 PM on December 2, 2013


Feds Deploy National Spy System of Microphones Capable of Recording Conversations
posted by jeffburdges at 6:54 AM on December 3, 2013


Audio recording in public places is a real concern, but it's probably best not to point people to republished Infowars articles by Alex Jones.
posted by anemone of the state at 9:28 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hadn't heard about the cops using conversations recorded from gunshot detectors anywhere else, although obviously yes the ACLU might make a better link.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:41 AM on December 3, 2013


British news staff may face terrorism charges over Snowden leaks

Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells MPs
posted by homunculus at 1:33 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alan Rusbridger, Guardian Editor, Asked: 'Do You Love This Country?'

WTF
posted by anemone of the state at 2:50 PM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


In other news: A Move Towards Generalised Internet Surveillance in France?
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secrets. How two alienated, angry geeks broke the story of the year
posted by homunculus at 1:15 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald wrote earlier about being the target of personal attacks and smears in relation to a New York Daily News story about his past connections to an LLC involved in the adult video industry.

It looks like Stephen Harper's PMO is getting clueless backbenchers to denounce Greenwald as a "Brazil-based former porn industry executive." Apparently they really do think Canadians are that credulous.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:10 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Never doubt that alienated, angry geeks can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
posted by JHarris at 1:13 PM on December 5, 2013


Having read about half of it so far... that link of homunculus', there, that's terrific, and I think a foreshadowing of the future. There are bad things about the kind of mindset that's gone into the creation of Anonymous and the culture of radical openness they espouse, absolutely, but I think it might ultimately be the greatest hope this world has, going forward. The kinds of ingenuity that goes into defeating internet security and circumventing content restrictions, going to fighting stupid government secrecy and advancing the cause of Democracy. It gives one goosebumps.
posted by JHarris at 4:33 PM on December 5, 2013


Uygur: Bush Targetting of Juan Cole proof that NSA can’t be trusted with our Personal Data
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:55 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


NSA officials consider Edward Snowden amnesty in return for documents
posted by jquinby at 5:44 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


even if you're going to assume that applications like PRISM or XKEYSCORE are effective

Actually, it turns out that PRISM is just a decoy.
posted by homunculus at 9:33 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you expose the crimes of the state you can be sent to prison because you might've have "helped terrorists". If you actually help terrorists you get a $32,000 fine.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:41 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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