The NSA: An Inside View [blog-post]
December 16, 2013 4:41 AM   Subscribe

In which I relate my experience as an NSA employee and impart my thoughts on the policies in place, my former coworkers, and the current cyber war. I am an American patriot. Many impressions may come to mind at that word, “patriot”: perhaps that I am a Republican, that I don’t care about people outside the US, or that I am afraid of them. In my case, none of these conceptions apply. Patriotism to me simply means that I care about the US and its future. posted by panaceanot (148 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
From TFA:
"Most of my time was spent writing Ruby code to help with the systems"
At launch Twitter was written in Ruby... Coincidence or Conspiracy?
posted by drowsy at 5:00 AM on December 16, 2013


Never trust anyone who uses "we" when discussing the activities of their employer.
posted by fullerine at 5:00 AM on December 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


Being a patriot and well intentioned is not exactly the stand up reassurance that this blogger seems to think it is.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:08 AM on December 16, 2013 [27 favorites]


If you click on OPs links, beware how you use the word 'mayonnaise' in correspondence from now on. I'm sure that 'mayonnaise' is the word that will make it easiest for the NSA to determine and track who is a thorough reader and who is a tl;dr kind of person.
posted by drowsy at 5:09 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


TL;DR: he basically admits that the NSA is collecting everyone's calls and emails, but "its ok because we don't care about you. Trust us. ;)"

Also in case anybody is keeping score, he is basically confirming that the NSA lied when they said that they aren't collecting US data.
posted by Avenger at 5:09 AM on December 16, 2013 [16 favorites]


I mean, they actually lied to Congress. In a perfect world, there would be some consequences.

But, alas, no.
posted by Avenger at 5:10 AM on December 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


Between the rumblings of a possibility of maybe discussing future amnesty at some point for Snowden and this, I'm left wondering as to what the NSA thought he didn't have documents on that they really, really, REALLY didn't want us to know about.

Like, they hired a bunch of ex-Stasi guys to run their programs levels of 'No really, its all under control'.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:10 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't live in America and am therefore one of those people the author apparently thinks it's fine that they spy on.

I'm not OK with this and find the claim that it's OK to snoop just because the people you are snooping on are not members of your tribe to be dubious at best.
posted by Gilgongo at 5:11 AM on December 16, 2013 [27 favorites]


If you have to tell me you're a "patriot", you should probably re-examine your priorities.
posted by petrilli at 5:13 AM on December 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


Also the fact that this article was supposedly vetted and approved for publication means that the NSA must be in some kind of crisis mode. I can't imagine another organization allowing it's former employees to go around contradicting Congressional testimony unless they felt that they were losing the PR war.
posted by Avenger at 5:14 AM on December 16, 2013 [17 favorites]


Yeah, he wouldn't be writing this if he weren't allowed to in some way. That's what official secrets do; they separate the things you can say into allowed and disallowed. So, I'm not buying it.

I am an American patriot.

Patriotism is in the eye of the beholder.
posted by JHarris at 5:18 AM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


In essence, he argues the NSA usually shows restraint when dealing with American citizens without any links to intelligence targets.

There is zero reason to believe that their potential restraint always protects you though since these guys were collecting the porn viewing habits of an "American media celebrity" who didn't believe in 9/11 specifically so that they could discredit or blackmail him into shutting up. If they're attacking some silly truthers over his reach, then how long before they tart to worry about particularly influential blogs, etc. with actually relevant ideas?

I'll lay out a perfectly realistic scenario : Imagine you make friends with a nice family down the street who just happen to donate to a charity the U.S. government doesn't like, maybe it's a perfectly reasonably charity that gets a bit aggressive in providing medical supplies to Palestine. And your teenage kid has secretly taken to helping his chemistry prodigy friend make MDMA. You might not want him doing this but you'd rather handle it as a parent given our fucked up judicial system. Would the NSA turn that information over to the DEA? Yes, obviously since he's making the stuff!
posted by jeffburdges at 5:19 AM on December 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


Propaganda for breakfast! (TM)
posted by spitbull at 5:19 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you have to tell me you're a "patriot", you should probably re-examine your priorities.

Or produce the time machine by which you arrived in the twenty-first century. Or the grandfather clock you died in, assuming you're a phantom who solves mysteries.

I'd much rather we just drop the word 'patriot' altogether and stop trying to co-opt it for contemporary causes.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:20 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


After I got the job I now have (teaching 4/4), I spent a lot of time wondering if I had made a mistake, if I should have finished the interview process at the NSA instead of biting when I got my job offer, especially since they were offering double the salary I make now.

I haven't really had that regret for the last few months for some reason.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:21 AM on December 16, 2013 [16 favorites]


I like "hatriot" for the teabaggers.

And "apparatchik" for the government lawyers.
posted by spitbull at 5:22 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


This essay was deemed UNCLASSIFIED and approved for public release by the NSA's office of Pre-Publication Review on 11/21/2013 (PP 14-0081).

This essay was deemed BULLSHIT and disregarded by the office of me.

P-P-P-PARTY AT THE NSA
TWENTY-TWENTY-TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:24 AM on December 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


One of my coworkers is ex-NSA, and he seems really conscientious, respectful, and respectable. I don't doubt that many if not most individual NSA agents have impeccable character. But that does not mean that the system they are part of inherits that character.
posted by Jpfed at 5:27 AM on December 16, 2013 [16 favorites]


Also jeffburdges, according to the local NSA defenders we aren't allowed to construct hypothetical scenarios for abuses we can't prove have already happened because of Marbury vs. Madison or something.

So none of your preposterous tales of government abuse.
posted by spitbull at 5:28 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


OK, I admit, I have not read the whole thing, but it made me gibber too much. Does it turn into anything better than a "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" thing?
posted by Zarkonnen at 5:29 AM on December 16, 2013


The "healthiest mayonaise ever" Kickstarter advertisement at the end was intriguing.
posted by davros42 at 5:33 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


In 1991 the USSR dissolved and the Cold War ended. The world let out a sigh of relief, safe in the the knowledge that humanity wasn’t crazy enough to destroy itself. That security we had is gone. North Korea has nuclear weapons and is threatening to fire them at the US.

Yes, that's exactly what would happen if the DPRK set off their not at all sucky nukes. Humanity destroyed.
posted by jaduncan at 5:38 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


OK, I admit, I have not read the whole thing, but it made me gibber too much. Does it turn into anything better than a "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" thing?

Not really. It ends with a footnote telling the reader that the NSA needs to collect "everything" to be effective, but the author isn't allowed to tell you why. Well, ok, there's also a Kickstarter link about mayonnaise.
posted by kewb at 5:45 AM on December 16, 2013




Have you ever noticed our project insignia? It's an octopus devouring the world... Are we the baddies?

Hail HYDRA NSA!
posted by kewb at 5:52 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't live in America and am therefore one of those people the author apparently thinks it's fine that they spy on.

I'm not OK with this and find the claim that it's OK to snoop just because the people you are snooping on are not members of your tribe to be dubious at best.


In your case they do so with your own government's permission. In return your spy agencies monitor Americans and exchange the data. This practice was well known before Snowden. Special Relationship indeed!
posted by srboisvert at 5:53 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mean, they actually lied to Congress. In a perfect world, there would be some consequences.

A perfect world? Hell, I'd be willing to settle for just functional at this point...
posted by saulgoodman at 5:53 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ruby programmers are an untrustworthy lot. Not the pure evil of late 1990s cold fusion devs whose love of blue backgrounds and gold colored link text so soiled the Internet that Vince Cerf was driven to madness and near suicide before being saved by a friendly Perl hacker. I digress --to return to my point, Ruby developers are not evil, but full of the kinds of flaw and blind spots in their moral compass. They are also possessed of a draconian greed--there is a reason they named their chosen language after a precious gem. Be wary when listening to their tales.
posted by humanfont at 5:59 AM on December 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


NSA employees are the law-abiding type. Firstly, the lawbreaking type isn't likely to want to work for the government. Secondly, if they did apply, it is quite unlikely they would make it through the clearance process.

I reject the notion that these are meaningful categories in which to sort people.

But I digress – the rare cases of unauthorized data retrieval were not polygraph-trained foreign spies trying to infiltrate the Agency, but rather regular employees illicitly viewing communications for personal gain.

This is in reference to the cases he found out about. It would of course be very silly to let the Enemy know that they found a real weakpoint in your system, rather than some decoy.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:04 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


This guy could bring home Olympic gold for all these mental gymnastics. I mean, his "Edit 12/15/13" is acrobatic sophistry at its best. He's in the middle of saying "we collect everything, even if we're not allowed to look at it, but except for a few Bad Apples (TM) we only look at stuff we're allowed to look at" when reality intervenes to contradict him, and he just keeps on trucking! The specific examples he uses of "we would never do that, so there's nothing to worry about" are already publicly known to be happening, and you can actually read his thought processes step-by-step as he pirouettes around this problematic fact.
posted by daveliepmann at 6:11 AM on December 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's the word "look" that troubles me the most. FTA, emph mine:
We all know that it's illegal to look at a US citizen's data without a court order. I use the term "look" deliberately: the Agency makes the distinction that looking at data is surveillance, while gathering it from locations outside the US is not. We gathered everything, and only looked at a tiny percentage of it. I am okay with this distinction both because I don't mind if my emails are copied to an Agency database and likely never read and because from a technical standpoint it would seriously impair our ability to spy if we couldn't gather everything.*
...
* I am not permitted to say why this is the case, but it is true.
It's interesting that the verbs here are "looking" (used very deliberately per the author's own words) and "reading." These are things humans do, in contrast to "examining" or "analyzing" which can (and are) done much more effectively by a computer than by human eyes. The article is conspicuously silent on that, however, and the fact that we're told that not being able to gather everything would impair the NSA's intelligence capabilities because $REASONS is not reassuring in the least.

My own research is devoted to computational analysis of complex systems, specifically biological networks. It is amazing what one can glean from bulk data if there's enough of it. (For instance: we and others have shown that it is possible to compromise patient/study participant privacy if the average allele frequencies -- not individual genomes, but averages aggregated across thousands of people -- of a medical study's case and control groups are published for a sufficiently large number of loci.) I have close colleagues who work on similar problems in social networks, transportation networks (in some cases using cell phone tracking data from volunteers), text analysis, &c. None of us need to "read" anything; what we do need are data sets that are large enough to train a machine to pick out patterns that have low probabilities of occurring by chance.
posted by Westringia F. at 6:18 AM on December 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


I admit I haven't read the whole thing, having a perhaps understandable aversion to reading things that will obviously make me shake with rage, but every direct quote I've seen is somehow more troubling than the last. The quote LogicalDash makes, with a little more context:

NSA employees are the law-abiding type. Firstly, the lawbreaking type isn't likely to want to work for the government. Secondly, if they did apply, it is quite unlikely they would make it through the clearance process. All NSA employees receive Top Secret and SI clearance, which requires a background check, psych screening, and counterintelligence and lifestyle polygraph tests.

Oh sweet lord. Is this person for real?! Is a person in a top-secret position with access to countless national secrets seriously talking about the lawbreaking type? That type would never want to work for government -- no, people in government are always above-boards and trustworthy, just ask Richard Fucking* Nixon!

* Not his real middle name.

And using polygraph tests, wow. A test that's almost as if it were designed to pass the hopelessly naive and total sociopaths while looking to the non-discerning like an infallible measure of truth.
posted by JHarris at 6:18 AM on December 16, 2013 [17 favorites]


"I am a (German | Chinese | American) patriot. Many impressions may come to mind at that word, “patriot”: perhaps that I am a (Party Member | Democrat | Republican) , that I don’t care about people outside the (Motherland | Fatherland | Nation), or that I am afraid of them. In my case, none of these conceptions apply. Patriotism to me simply means that I care about (Germany | China | America) and its future. I hope my story gives you further information and perspective on the activities of the (Secret Police).
...
Many are concerned about the (Secret Police) listening to their phone calls and reading their email messages. I believe that most should not be very concerned because most are not sending email to intelligence targets. Email that isn’t related to intelligence is rarely viewed, and it’s even less often viewed if it’s from a (Citizen). Every Agency employee goes through orientation, in which we are taught about the federal laws that govern Cyber Command: Title 10 and Title 50. We all know that it's illegal to look at a citizen's data without a court order. I use the term "look" deliberately: the Agency makes the distinction that looking at data is surveillance, while gathering it from locations outside the (Nation) is not. We gathered everything, and only looked at a tiny percentage of it. I am okay with this distinction both because I don't mind if my emails are copied to an Agency database and likely never read and because from a technical standpoint it would seriously impair our ability to spy if we couldn't gather everything.* The Agency is an intelligence organization, not a law enforcement agency.
...
As we were reminded by an internal memo after WikiLeaks, even when something is public knowledge, if it's still classified, we can't talk about it outside a SCIF. So while there is much information online about XKeyscore (I'm not saying anything about its validity), only a small amount of information about XKS has been declassified through Agency statements. I can say it was an analyst tool that I had access to. I had to make sure that my searches didn't use (Citizen) selectors, such as a phone number or IP address. A required field of every search was a description of what the search was for. This justification, along with the selectors, was examined by my assigned reviewer, one of my superiors. I didn't test it, but I'm sure there was automated analysis that prevented or flagged use of (Citizen) selectors. There was another system I worked on that for instance automatically ignored all (Citizen) IP addresses. I knew that if I were to query in XKS for US persons or perform non-(Citizen) queries for personal reasons I could be fired, and at least in the former case criminally prosecuted. Not that I seriously considered doing so. Which brings me to the next topic, the character of (Secret Police) employees.

(Secret Police) employees are the law-abiding type. Firstly, the lawbreaking type isn't likely to want to work for the government. Secondly, if they did apply, it is quite unlikely they would make it through the clearance process. All (Secret Police) employees receive Top Secret and SI clearance, which requires a background check, psych screening, and counterintelligence and lifestyle polygraph tests. In the background check, interviewers call your references and walk around your neighborhood, workplace, or school, asking people about your character. You take a long automated psych test that flags troubling personality traits. It felt thorough, and I remember one inquiry from the old, stern psychologist interviewing me: "The test showed you may have trouble asserting yourself when needed. Do you agree?" (To which I replied, "No, I believe I can assert myself when needed.") They examine your 127-page Standard Form 86, in which you include lists of your illegal activities, foreigners you have worked with or befriended, and where you have lived and traveled in your life and with whom. They verify your SF-86 information in a number of ways, including during the polygraph. The polygrapher also asks many questions to determine whether you are law-abiding and patriotic. While the efficacy of polygraphs has been questioned, and while I'm sure given sufficient training and natural psychosomatic control one could beat them, I think they're fairly accurate. They may yield some false positives (I, for example, initially failed when I said, "No" in response to, "Have you ever given classified information to a foreign entity?" – this is before I knew any classified information – and had to fly back to headquarters for a second attempt a month later), but I believe false negatives are rare."
In other words, don't worry, folks! The secret police and their secret supervisors and secret policies and secret procedures will never, ever do anything to break the trust that exists between Citizens and their Secret Police.
posted by deanklear at 6:20 AM on December 16, 2013 [30 favorites]


From the article:

From a technical standpoint it would seriously impair our ability to spy if we couldn't gather everything.* ...

* I am not permitted to say why this is the case, but it is true.


This is (one of the reasons) why the current implementation of our surveillance apparatus is incompatible with the idea of democratic self-governance. We cannot make an informed decision about the lawful bounds of government conduct if we do not know the reasons for setting those bounds.
posted by compartment at 6:32 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


What srboisvert says above. The whole "Don't worry, we don't spy on our home turf" thing is swept away by the fact that "We have allies to do that for us without having to bother about such piffle as being constrained by laws created to curtail the secret services' powers. And we do the same for them." [I'm not actually quoting here, just encapsulating what the actual practices are as I haltingly understand them to be.]
posted by aesop at 6:34 AM on December 16, 2013


They're not so much collecting everything as... ahhh... backing it up.
posted by flabdablet at 6:35 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


A former NSA employee here. Not all of us think like this guy. In fact, the way this guy thinks ("I don't mind if my emails are copied to an Agency database and likely never read and because from a technical standpoint it would seriously impair our ability to spy if we couldn't gather everything.") is one of the major reasons the agency needs to be mucked out.

(For anyone who's interested: I wrote about this for Slate and Pando.)
posted by cgs06 at 6:37 AM on December 16, 2013 [32 favorites]


Huh. I think I TA'd an intro CS class with this guy in college. I never would have guessed he'd end up working at the NSA.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:38 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you have to tell me you're a "patriot", you should probably re-examine your priorities.

Well, more generally, if the last year or two has shown us anything at all it's that if you work for the NSA in any capacity, you should probably re-examine your priorities.
posted by Naberius at 6:43 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Telling that the word "Constitution" is nowhere in the article. Anyone can be a "patriot", but it's a lot harder to "protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic".

As a citizen of a Five Eyes country (where every spy agency has a friend to call to help them evade domestic espionnage laws) I'd encourage Americans to rally around the 4th Amendment. Don't let the rightwing be the only ones "defending the Constitution", because you're going to have to work together to fight this.
posted by anthill at 6:58 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


These NSA drones don't even know what they don't know.

Anyone with fundamental scientific training knows that the act of observation can alter the observed whether animal, vegetable or mineral. A camera set up in the woods to capture the natural behavior of baboons only captures their behaviors in the unnatural presence of a strange plastic box.

With that in mind, I have never seen an acknowledgement or response by the NSA to the idea that the mere threat of surveillance is enough to dampen and impact legitimate political discourse.

They seem to be completely oblivious to the destructiveness of their observation on American culture and yet they claim to be "patriots."

"Patriotism to me simply means that I care about the US and its future."

Yes, with your own personal agenda and beliefs. What are we supposed to make of "I care about the US and it's future." Should I assume that to mean "Don't worry, I won't let it fall into the hands of radical Marxists" or "Non-Judeo-Christian beliefs are inherently suspicious and must be surveiled" or "Republican ideology is 'best for America' and all others should be suppressed."

Telling me you "care" for the US and its future is meaningless in light of your ignorant and destructive actions of mass surveillance. If you really loved America you would end it.
posted by j03 at 7:00 AM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


The latest character on NCIS is an NSA agent. At one point one of the NSA characters says something like, "We know we have a public perception problem right now." No it looks like this agent is a permanent part of the show. She's also why I am done with the show. I find her to be repugnant propaganda. Sure, the whole show is propaganda and military cheering, but I didn't much mind before. I wrote on my Facebook page that I would have been happier if they had started conducting joint operations with the KKK and they grabbed a lovable white supremacist to help them infiltrate hate groups. I watched the first two episodes which this character and if she wasn't already madly annoying the NSA bit put it over the top for me.

Someone PM me if she turns into a Snowden or takes a bullet in the head. Otherwise I'm done.

I consider the NSA to be a domestic terrorist group. Illegally and unconstitutionally operating within US borders, lying to Congress and the American people, doing untold billions of dollars of damage to the economy. It's time to disband the agency. Yesterday I was reading some conspiracy shit about how the NSA is blackmailing Obama, and I found myself actually wondering it is was true. If not, why no contempt of Congress charges? Why is no one in jail or being ousted? No, I don't buy the blackmail idea, but it is understandable how people get here.

Something new comes out every week. Basically every new revelation lets us know they were lying, they are continuing to lie, and they will lie about anything new coming out.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:03 AM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


One problem with "law-abiding types" is that this can overlap with "follows rules" and "doesn't make waves."

And when the rules change, say because someone who isn't law-abiding becomes the boss, then it is unlikely that the good qualities of "law-abiding" among the employees will matter.
posted by zippy at 7:12 AM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Wonder how those Petraeus emails got in front of the 'right' eyes...
posted by Golem XIV at 7:14 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I am an American patriot. Many impressions may come to mind at that word, “patriot”: perhaps that I am a Republican, that I don’t care about people outside the US, or that I am afraid of them. In my case, none of these conceptions apply. "

Oh, really?


Name: SANDS-RAMSHAW, LOREN DEAN
Residential Address: [REDACTED]
[REDACTED]
PINELLAS COUNTY
Voter Information
Party Affiliation: REPUBLICAN


Quite the trustworthy sort.
posted by cgs06 at 7:14 AM on December 16, 2013 [34 favorites]


Okay, so in case you're having trouble keeping track of this, here's a little cheat sheet to help you remember when to trust the government. You might want to print this out and keep it in your wallet.

Government invading and occupying other countries? Trust government. When the lives of American soldiers are at risk, we must all be As One; anything else is treasonous.

Government putting cameras in your shower? Trust government. You're just being a big silly if you're worried that somebody might look at you while you're naked, because they're a really nice bunch of guys who would never do that.

Government proposing to provide affordable health insurance to working class people? BY GOD IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY WITH THE BLOOD OF PATRIOTS.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:15 AM on December 16, 2013 [39 favorites]


Apart from the stuff already mentioned, my main question (which I doubt he could answer legally) is: if an automated algorithm is scanning collected information for patterns which can then be warranted and actioned by a human, then does that count as reading it? Can a mechanical agent read by law?

He also completely and totally misses something which I'd expect a patriotic person to catch, which is that it doesn't really matter what the NSA is doing, but rather the implicit chilling effect that the presence of the surveillance state has on political speech. That's the more immediate threat to democracy, rather than the further off Big Brother version of the police state.
posted by codacorolla at 7:20 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Telling us that our data isn't being misused now is not comforting. It is like telling a man on death row that the gallows that are being constructed in front of his cell should be of no concern because they are not being used to hang him yet.
posted by vorpal bunny at 7:20 AM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yes, absolutely. There are myriad scenarios under which surveillance itself, or related law enforcement, have chilling effects on freedom of expression :

At the concrete end, there is the shutdown of Lavabit due on the court's unwillingness to entertain challenges to the PATRIOT Act, the ensuing shutdown of Silent Mail, and tangentially related shutdown of Groklaw.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) compiled twenty-two firsthand accounts how NSA surveillance chilled the right to association, largely amongst activists, for their massive lawsuit against the NSA.

In the arts, PEN America found that NSA surveillance has driven one in six, U.S. writers to self-censor (pdf) and caused another one in six to seriously consider doing so.

Of course, there is outright intimidation of journalist and activists like Ilija Trojanow, Jacob Appelbaum, and Laura Poitras by the U.S., or Baraa Shiban and Gleen Greenwald's partner David Miranda and employer by the U.K. too, but that's more the Administration, and especially the DoJ, not so much the NSA.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:24 AM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Some surveillance is the cost of civilization in today's world and prevents all kinds of physical violence by allowing us to detect and deal with threats in a surgical manner, before they become big problems. There seems to be no acknowledgement of this rather obvious fact.
posted by shivohum at 7:24 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoops--to water the tree of liberty with the blood of TYRANTS. Not patriots. In this context I can perhaps be forgiven for having confused the two.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:26 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


mumble mumble "last refuge of a scoundrel"
posted by entropicamericana at 7:33 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Between the rumblings of a possibility of maybe discussing future amnesty at some point for Snowden and this, I'm left wondering as to what the NSA thought he didn't have documents on that they really, really, REALLY didn't want us to know about.

I'm thinking it's the new nanoscale aerosolbots, equipped with continuously-operating transmitters and leukocyte evasion protocols, that they're pumping into the planetary air supply at the rate of about a septillion an hour. When your shit turns grey, just look the other way!TM
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 7:35 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some surveillance is the cost of civilization in today's world and prevents all kinds of physical violence by allowing us to detect and deal with threats in a surgical manner, before they become big problems. There seems to be no acknowledgement of this rather obvious fact.

It's not a question of 'some surveillance', but rather the scope of the current surveillance which we only really know about because the NSA was forced to confirm it via leak (otherwise we'd still be guessing, as you can observe in pre-Snowden NSA threads at this very site).

Isn't the big thing all about Government accountability today? Don't we ask our social services to slavishly detail all of the value they add? Well the NSA has a pretty shitty track record with this accountability, the most they can manage is a very vague promise that they've thwarted over fifty terrorist attacks, and then ask us to take their word for it.

So much for evidence based government services.

Regardless of whatever value the NSA is contributing (which I'm very skeptical of) it's fundamentally anti-democratic to not let the people paying for this service to understand what they're paying for.
posted by codacorolla at 7:36 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


So if it's cool to just collect the data and not read it, we should all be able to load our computers up with classified government documents as long as we pinky swear not to open the files, right?
posted by jason_steakums at 7:36 AM on December 16, 2013 [16 favorites]


One should mention that our early glimpses into Snowden's documents included slides from training presentations. Those training materials contributed to the entire federal government booted from DEF CON, a grey hat hacker convention. Anyone writing on behalf of the NSA like this guys surely encountered similar training materials without noticing the issues, that makes him pretty much a fascist.

I believe techdirt chased down all those claims about thwarted terrorist activities, codacorolla, ultimately they found the NSA helped get one guy into trouble for donating to a bad Islamic charity, while everything else turning into pretty much nothing.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:37 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am an American patriot.

And as Micheal Badnarik would point out you are the servant to the people as the people are the sovereign.

(If I suggest taking this idea of a patriot and placing it in some kind of pipe to vaporize it under heat, is the resulting vapour some kind of Government restricted drug? If not, it should be - because some people are under a powerful addiction.)
posted by rough ashlar at 7:38 AM on December 16, 2013


Justified Snooping = Healthy Mayonnaise.
Maybe it's possible, but why fucking bother?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:39 AM on December 16, 2013


So if surveillance is protecting us from physical violence, then the NSA should be able to supply the media with all sorts of nefarious plots that have been foiled by this intelligence gathering, right? I mean normally you can't because you don't want to tip off the enemy of your capabilities, but Snowden has pretty much rendered that point moot.

The NSA could really use some good press to justify all this intelligence gathering right about now, so I'm sure we'll start hearing all the lives saved any second...
posted by Eddie Mars at 7:41 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is stunningly obvious this guy worked in collections, and not analysis or operations.

Let's run this through the mill and see what is left.

The declassified version of my job title was “Global Network Vulnerability Analyst.” I was in the Computer Network Operations Development Program, and my office was S32X: Signals Intelligence Directorate (S) > Data Acquisition (S3) > Tailored Access Operations (S32) > Special Tactics and Techniques (S32X).

This is meaningless to the unclass side, since the org chart is classified.
The NSA's secret org chart

I believe that most should not be very concerned because most are not sending email to intelligence targets.

This is the "less extreme" form of the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" argument. I made a previous post on varying concepts of privacy. As Solove writes, this assumes that the purpose of privacy is to hide bad acts. Privacy is a complex, multifacted concept, and privacy can be protection against bad actors. Information, once collected, is extremely difficult to contain - and what was irrelevant before may be relevant in the future.

I am okay with this distinction both because I don't mind if my emails are copied to an Agency database and likely never read and because from a technical standpoint it would seriously impair our ability to spy if we couldn't gather everything * I am not permitted to say why this is the case, but it is true.

Some thought applied to the problem eliminates the attempt at secrecy. It is a truism that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." But in a total information awareness program, the goal is to have everything (via), so that no evidence of a plot would indicate no plot.

FBI employees don't even have SI (communications intelligence) clearance, and all NSA-collected data is classified Top Secret//SI.

The data may be TS//SI, but the analytic product doesn't have to be.

The NSA copy of my emails will only be viewed if the Agency can convince a judge that I might be a foreign agent.

Or if you've communicated with a foreign agent. Or communicated with someone who communicated with a foreign agent. Or communicated with someone who communicated with someone who communicated with a foreign agent.

They won’t spent time on my private love letters.
LOL. LOVEINT.

The NSA copy of my emails won't be viewed by police or FBI investigating me about marijuana use, for instance.
Deputy Director Inglis said they share foreign intelligence with the FBI. Perhaps foreign intel like cartel smuggling from Mexico?

I’d like to give you a view of what the people behind the NSA are like."

This whole section is absurd, as the objection is not to the character of the people working there, but to the system and structures that they operate within.
"just a few bad apples" only works on people who don't remember the rest of the phrase.

CBS reported that in 2007 the US suffered an "espionage Pearl Harbor" in which entities "broke into all of the high tech agencies, all of the military agencies, and downloaded terabytes of information."

The NSA is the premier SIGINT/ELINT intelligence service. This does not fill me with confidence regarding their ability or motivation.

Take for example the power grid.
Hey, a serious concern? What is the NSA doing to help secure critical infrastructure? I'm asking because PERFECT CITIZEN is research-only.

(the default classification is TS//SI//REL TO FVEY, or "release to five eyes", which are the aforementioned countries and the US).

FVEY is crap. Any REL is crap. NATO classicifations are crap. NOFORN is the good shit.

When I make a company that stores private user data, I will do all I can to make sure that no party, including the US government, can access that data without permission.
Like Lavabit? Good luck ...

In conclusion, this guy is an idiot.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:42 AM on December 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


Government proposing to provide affordable health insurance to working class people? BY GOD IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY WITH THE BLOOD OF PATRIOTS.

And yet - go ahead. Modify the contract the hospital hands you for care. See if they will accept the modification.

Same goes for any of these service providers who are helping or not resisting the NSA. See if you can get service if you want a bit of privacy.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:43 AM on December 16, 2013


Party Affiliation: REPUBLICAN

No, the author of the blog post is correct. It's not the act of registering as a Republican, it's the act of looking at his party affiliation. He specifically said that in his case "none of these conceptions apply". But of course if you're going to look at his party affiliation then you'll conceive of him as a Republican.

He wrote it in the least untruthful way possible. It wasn't until facts were revealed that statements became incorrect.
posted by compartment at 7:46 AM on December 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


There is zero reason to believe that their potential restraint always protects you though since these guys were collecting the porn viewing habits of an "American media celebrity" who didn't believe in 9/11 specifically so that they could discredit or blackmail him into shutting up.

Sigh. Not that there's any point combatting the relentless tide of misinformation about the NSA practices--people know what they want to believe and they'll believe it regardless. But this, at least, is a nice clear example of the relentless "truthiness" of so much of the stuff being peddled in these conversations. The linked article purportedly being "quoted" from here does not contain the phrase "American media celebrity." It contains the phrase "well-known media celebrity." And why doesn't it contain the phrase "American media celebrity"? Because if you go back to the original reporting on this story it is made clear that they're describing a "media celebrity" who lives in "the Middke East." So the Atlantic drops the "Middle East" bit because, you know, it's much more fun to just say "media celebrity" and imply that, hey, maybe it's that guy you watch on the network news every night. And then someone here on Metafilter bites hard on the bait and just invents the phrase "American media celebrity" to really sell the OUTRAGE OUTRAGE angle. And on and on goes the merry go round.
posted by yoink at 7:49 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


So it's cool if it's some random famous bloke as long as he's not American?
posted by cjorgensen at 7:51 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


If a certain type of surveillance is illegal in your county, just get one of your 5-eyes partners to do it for you. Easy and legal.

Carry out your dodgy financial transactions in London.
Hold and Interrogate suspects in Guantanamo.

Why break the law when you can avoid it?
posted by guy72277 at 7:53 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


So if surveillance is protecting us from physical violence, then the NSA should be able to supply the media with all sorts of nefarious plots that have been foiled by this intelligence gathering, right? I mean normally you can't because you don't want to tip off the enemy of your capabilities, but Snowden has pretty much rendered that point moot.

This has never really held water with me, because surely the people who were stopped and others in the circles they travel in know that they were stopped. And it's not exactly hard to work backwards from that and guess how they were stopped, even with the pre-Snowden chatter about capabilities. I think the lack of parading a running capture/kill count, with all the PR bonuses they'd get from it, points to one of two things: either they're not stopping nearly as many things as they say they are (because there aren't as many realistic threats as they say), or the people they stop are getting renditioned off to some black site somewhere.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:56 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


No it looks like this agent is a permanent part of the show. She's also why I am done with the show. I find her to be repugnant propaganda.

But such has been known for years. The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America by Hugh Wilford goes into the topic of exactly what you are now "turned off" to.

And every day the dishonesty of various people in "leadership" positions is allowed to stand, the more support/listeners people like Alex Jones get.

The simple solution you all learned before kindergarten is "honesty". How are you, dear reader, going to promote that simple solution?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:00 AM on December 16, 2013


One of my coworkers is ex-NSA, and he seems really conscientious, respectful, and respectable. I don't doubt that many if not most individual NSA agents have impeccable character.

Aren't a significant proportion of them Mormons these days?
posted by acb at 8:02 AM on December 16, 2013


When I did basic training in the army, there was a lot of noise and arm-waving about how failure and shame and getting sent home were millimetres away at all times, how many of us wouldn't make it, how it was hard and we needed to give 110%, etc.

Of course, military basic training isn't hard to pass at all, barring physical or mental disability. But they carefully create an atmosphere that incentivizes you to think of yourself as committed to doing something that's really hard and likely to result in failure and very, very special if you manage it. It both motivates you and makes you perpetuate the same self-policing atmosphere.

One of the subtler reveals of this essay is how much guys like this are subject to the same process in vetting and hiring: This is US intelligence, it's serious business, we need law abiding patriots of upstanding character who are here to do right by their fellow Americans, etc. Mostly it creates useful idiots like the author, who happily reason from "I wouldn't do that" to "we don't do that", avoiding the obvious idea that he's a cover for those who either happily lack his restraint, or who surrender their restraints for a greater good. "Jimmy, you're special. Your character is beyond reproach, you're a true, true patriot, and we need a volunteer for a very special secret program that can only be staffed by the most trustworthy NSA employees..."

When I had a little rant on Facebook about the NSA, a women I'm friends with chimed in with much the same character-based defence of her mother, who'd worked in Canadian intelligence. I wonder, at what point do these people sit around talking to each other and admit that it's a lie, if ever?
posted by fatbird at 8:04 AM on December 16, 2013 [25 favorites]


Either they're not stopping nearly as many things as they say they are (because there aren't as many realistic threats as they say), or the people they stop are getting renditioned off to some black site somewhere.

According to the XKeyscore slides, the program resulted in the capture of 300 terrorists. I don't think it's so much that they are being rendered off to some black site as it is that their home countries will (at best) lock them up without a fair trail. I would not be surprised to learn that the XKeyscore tally includes Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye. His main crime seems to have been reporting to the world that the United States carried out an air strike for which it allowed the Yemeni government to take credit. The attack killed fourteen women and twenty-one children.

We need an honest accounting of what these programs have actually accomplished. The NSA does not carry out these programs for its own good, it does so for the good of the American people. The benefactors of these programs have a moral duty to carefully scrutinize their harms and benefits. Until we know what these programs have achieved, the United States is unable to show the world that we have fulfilled certain basic responsibilities of self-governance.
posted by compartment at 8:22 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


60 Minutes Gives NSA Blowjob.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:23 AM on December 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


as the objection is not to the character of the people working there

I don't think I agree with this. I think the character of the people working there has been irretrievably stained, and any respectable person - particularly one who thinks of himself as a "patriot" - should quit.
posted by Naberius at 8:26 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The NSA does not carry out these programs for its own good, it does so for the good of the American people.

Now who's being naive, Kay?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:33 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The NSA does not carry out these programs for its own good, it does so for the good of the American people.

How do you know? There is no review. The people you voted to represent you in government are being lied to. The president admits he's not briefed on this stuff and only finds out about abuse through the media. The people don't need to know everything, but we do need to trust that those who are representing us know everything. It's also impossible to evaluate whether your representatives have your interests in mind when they vote if you don't know what they are voting on.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:43 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh.

I don't want to be that person in this thread, and I really, really don't want to be taken as pro-domestic spying but of all the arguments this blog post raised I do think there was one, possibly good point.

If everyone else is doing it, and possibly doing it better than we are, don't we need to keep up? The US isn't in the position to be able to say we won't keep researching new submarines or missiles or helicopters because we more or less agreed to spend ourselves to death for Team West. This is just the next generation of this. We build the most advanced missile systems, so we're also going to keep up with our surveillance machine. Our impotent last grasp of being the world power that we're psychologically unready to deal with losing.

In conclusion. Ugh.
posted by fontophilic at 8:57 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


If everyone else is doing it, and possibly doing it better than we are, don't we need to keep up

The question is what benefit does it give us other than a police state? Missiles and submarines have war uses, but I'm hard pressed to figure out how this could be useful in war. War time intelligence is not going to be based around civilian networks, as there are parallel networks for that. If we went to war with China, is any of this civilian monitoring stuff going to be useful whatsoever?
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:04 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


One argument is that we have a choice between totalitarianism and anarchy, with no middle ground. Most people will choose totalitarianism, because then at least if you keep your head down and are obedient and compliant, there's a good chance that you'll be OK, and the alternative is a lawless wasteland of killer caravans of depraved, predatory sadists, where the best you can hope for is that they kill you and your loved ones relatively quickly.

So, in short, the choice is Kim Jong-Il or General Butt Naked.
posted by acb at 9:19 AM on December 16, 2013


It's not a bad argument in principle, fontophilic. But the end result is what we see now in the military sphere: in the name of "keeping up", U.S. military spending is greater than the sum of the next 26 spenders, of whom most are allies. Unrestrained "keeping up" quite quickly becomes an excuse for vast overreaching.
posted by fatbird at 9:20 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The US isn't in the position to be able to say we won't keep researching new submarines or missiles or helicopters because we more or less agreed to spend ourselves to death for Team West.

Please don't co-opt other countries to justify democratic abuses. All of the US's actions can be amply explained as self interest.
posted by forgetful snow at 9:27 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Between the rumblings of a possibility of maybe discussing future amnesty at some point for Snowden and this, I'm left wondering as to what the NSA thought he didn't have documents on that they really, really, REALLY didn't want us to know about.

Gen. Keith Alexander: This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, "If you give me full amnesty I'll let the other 40 go." What do you do?

Not to defend the NSA or condemn Snowden--I'm not of a mind to do either--but the logic here is something I can appreciate from the standpoint of setting precedents. If the President came out tomorrow and said, "Holy shit, what we've been doing is wrong and awful and I'm granting Snowden asylum," I'd be very happy... but I don't see the government admitting that any of its actions were wrong anytime soon. If the gov't won't come out and say, "We were wrong, he was right," I'm not sure there's a credible strategy for granting amnesty.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:39 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gen. Keith Alexander: This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, "If you give me full amnesty I'll let the other 40 go." What do you do?

I'm sure the remaining 40 have some definite opinions.
posted by Mooski at 9:46 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm sure the remaining 40 have some definite opinions.

Sure, and I wouldn't blame them... but this is how one winds up encouraging criminals to take hostages in order to get out of trouble.

We could also talk about how Snowden's "hostages" generally amount to "evidence of things we never should have been doing" rather than, you know, innocent lives, but again I'm thinking about the issue of setting precedents and not the (dis)honesty of the NSA's rhetoric and damage control.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:50 AM on December 16, 2013


This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, "If you give me full amnesty I'll let the other 40 go." What do you do?

This is an atrocious analogy. The man broke laws, yes, but to compare it to this scenario is completely insane rhetoric.
posted by Fuka at 9:52 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Gen. Alexander: "This is analogous to Snowden taking forty cakes. He took 40 cakes. That's as many as four tens. And that's terrible."
posted by jason_steakums at 9:54 AM on December 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


I have trouble taking seriously a publicly floated offer of amnesty since, if it was really important to re-establish contact with Snowden to gain his co-operation to get an inventory of what he took, it would be much more useful to do it secretly. I doubt Snowden himself wants to try coming back to the U.S. because no normal life is possible for him now, no matter where he is. Better to give him an annuity that he can use to set up a life somewhere else with the quiet assistance of the U.S. gov't. At this point, a decent annual salary and a passport in another name is probably looking pretty good to Snowden.
posted by fatbird at 9:55 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alexander's comments about "hostage-taking" might (and only might) have been credible had the past few whistleblowers who had gone through normally acceptable channels not been fired, stripped of clearance, and harassed by the FBI.
posted by zippy at 9:58 AM on December 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


>I am an American patriot.

I know that patriot missiles use AI for guidance, but this is scary.
posted by EnterTheStory at 10:14 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whenever someone labels themselves a "patriot," I automatically flash back to the scene in The Rock when Sean Connery "quotes" Oscar Wilde and gets neck-slammed by Ed Harris for his trouble.

Apparently the quote is bullshit, but it is a Michael Bay movie, after all.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:17 AM on December 16, 2013


Alexander's comments about "hostage-taking" might (and only might) have been credible had the past few whistleblowers who had gone through normally acceptable channels not been fired, stripped of clearance, and harassed by the FBI.

I honestly think it goes beyond that. In most cases, a whistleblower could at least get his day in court. But given the climate of our "national security issues" and "war on terror," it's perfectly reasonable for someone in Snowden's shoes to expect that he might have wound up in a cell somewhere outside of the US and been tortured at length--not because of spy novel hyperbole and paranoia, but because that's what the US has done to people in recent memory.

My personal feelings about Snowden are still really mixed. I want to believe him when he says he did what he did as a matter of conscience, and so far that seems to be holding up. But if info "came to light" showing that he had other motives, I wouldn't be able to trust that, either, because given all the other bullshit the NSA (and, let's face it, Obama) has pulled, character assassination would be the least of their crimes.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:29 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would be very surprised if an elaborate operation to extrajudicially snatch Snowden and spirit him out of Russia for trial wasn't currently in the late stages of planning, if not being put into place (i.e., surveillance teams, materiel, bribed/compromised Russian officials) as we speak. The guy's a high-value target, and must be made an example of as a deterrent to others and, more importantly, to show the world that You Don't Fuck With America.
posted by acb at 10:33 AM on December 16, 2013


Do you have to bother with an elaborate Delta Force snatch job? I bet Putin would happily have Snowden quietly arrested and handed over, for the right inducement.
posted by fatbird at 10:36 AM on December 16, 2013




acb, yeah, even if there's no intent to do that kind of thing now, you can be sure there are books' worth of plans for it somewhere just in case. Actually, it was probably mostly a matter of just inserting "Edward Snowden" and "Russia" into previously-made generic plans for just this kind of thing.

I'd be surprised if a plan to frame the US for killing or disappearing Snowden to further stoke the fires of distrust isn't high on the list of any nation that wants to discredit the US, too. Basically, nothing that could happen to Snowden up to and including him living out a long and boring life in Russia from now on is something I really quite trust entirely.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:37 AM on December 16, 2013


If everyone else is doing it, and possibly doing it better than we are, don't we need to keep up?

What if everyone else started engaging in torture as a legitimate…oh, never mind. Seriously though, this logic fails. If the action is wrong it doesn't become less wrong when others do it as well. I get this logic from people all the time. You point out abuse in the church and they point to the abuse in public schools. Yep, wrong in both places. Let's address it in both. And when you only have the ability to address it in one, then do so starting there.

Also, the US likes to pretend we're better than this crap.

Gen. Keith Alexander: This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, "If you give me full amnesty I'll let the other 40 go."

This from the man that lied to Congress. Sorry, he's got no credibility with me. Alexander belongs in jail.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:38 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Every time I hear someone say they are a patriot out loud I always append 'missile' in my head. It helps keep things clear.
posted by srboisvert at 10:42 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


JHarris: "I am an American patriot.

Patriotism is in the eye of the beholder.
"

Patriotism is a well-disguised vice.

Good French people deserve better lives than American murderers and rapists. Thailand children deserve health care as much as Alabama children do. Your worth on this planet is in no way related to your distance from me.

To say anything else is obscene to me - even though tribal loyalty is very, very deeply ingrained in us.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:48 AM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sending in Delta Force/Seal Team 6 may not be the optimal course of action; the Mossad have more assets in Russia than the US, and Obama would just have to call Netanyahu and say "Bibi, we've done you a lot of favours, now it's your turn to help us with a small problem..."
posted by acb at 10:50 AM on December 16, 2013


A federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency program which collects information on nearly all telephone calls made to, from or within the United States is likely to be unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found that the program appears to run afoul of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. He also said the Justice Department had failed to demonstrate that collecting the so-called metadata had helped to head off terrorist attacks.

Link
posted by photodegas at 10:53 AM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


How does this ruling carry over to the analysis of address books, 'friend' networks, and other metadata?
posted by anemone of the state at 10:55 AM on December 16, 2013


If everyone else is doing it, and possibly doing it better than we are, don't we need to keep up?

I think the response sincerely dedicated to improving national security would be to instigate the development of surveillance-proof technologies so that your own citizens couldn't be spied on. Clearly, there was a moment where this decision was being made when a leader stepped up and said yes, we should do the tempting thing and spy on everyone we can, forget trying to prevent spying.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:56 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]




Fifth Circuit rules warrant not required to track cell phones

So it's not like what the NSA is doing is illegal anyway, so why do you care?

"The government does not need a warrant to read your old emails."

Hey, if you wanted to keep it private you wouldn't have left it on a server or sent it over one, right?

I seriously could do this all day.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:07 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


NPR's Here and Now is covering the program right now.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2013


fontophilic: "If everyone else is doing it, and possibly doing it better than we are, don't we need to keep up? The US isn't in the position to be able to say we won't keep researching new submarines or missiles or helicopters because we more or less agreed to spend ourselves to death for Team West. This is just the next generation of this."

Are you actually arguing that, because governments like China, North Korea, and Russia spy on their own people, the US ought to, just to "keep up"?

SERIOUSLY?
posted by IAmBroom at 11:14 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]




This is why my alias, Facebook and every email I send is totally TMI.
posted by stormpooper at 11:58 AM on December 16, 2013


You know who was a patriot? Ben Franklin. A Founding Fucking Father.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
--Benjamin Franklin
You're not a patriot, Mr. Ruby Programmer. Nor is the NSA. Nor are your terrified defenders and mouthpieces who would prefer to live like goddam veal to protect their loathsome offspring from the scary terrorists or foreigners or brown people or people who believe in facts or whatever. I'm not scared of them. I'm scared of you. Spys and cops.

You're not a patriot. You're spying, prying scum. You and the police state you foster are the shame, degradation, and despair of decent Americans and even Lesser Human Beings (as you apparently view them) everywhere. This is a vile, vile way for a government supposedly subservient to its citizens to behave.

Sometimes I sincerely wish there was a hell just to see the look on these shithead's faces when they get there.
posted by umberto at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


So much for Marbury vs. Madison.
posted by spitbull at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


By which I meant:

Judge Leon FTW.

Today, by contrast, the NSA's computers can gather, store and sift untold millions of calls, and that changes the constitutional balance, Judge Leon wrote.

“The almost Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone meta-data of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,” he wrote.

He also questioned whether the phone records were useful in fighting terrorism. “The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk data collection actually stopped an imminent attack,” Leon said.

posted by spitbull at 12:55 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

You know, I always see that quote bandied about and it seems really smart and whatever until you consider the entirety of human society is built upon exactly that exchange of liberty for security.

You can make an argument that a particular exchange of liberty is not worthwhile for the received value in security - and I agree that the NSA has taken things a bit too far. It is wrong and stupid to assert that all exchanges of liberty for security are a bad idea.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:05 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


- “The almost Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone meta-data of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,” he wrote.

+ “The Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone meta-data of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,” he wrote.
posted by ryoshu at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2013


IAmBroom, ugh. No. I don't think you read the spirit of my post. Exasperated SERIOUSLYs aren't needed. If you're not interested in having a nuanced discussion and would rather trumpet moral outrage I'll let you have your fun and you can forget reading the rest of this comment.

I do think the most charitable way possible of viewing this spying technology is analogous to that of an aircraft carrier or a missile defense system or a drone. A piece of technology that you don't want to be outpaced on. A machine for the wars of our times: after the end of hot wars between states and into the slow-burning persistent war against non-state actors. And beyond just terrorism, but economic warfare and cyberwars. We are in these wars. We the public didn't get to vote on them.

For worse or worse, the US's current paradigm of foreign policy is to have the biggest sticks around. The spying complex that the public is only beginning to understand is possibly the biggest fucking stick ever glimpsed by man. I'm not saying this is moral, or good. It's basically evil, and for some reason the American public likes to think we're good. (Hint, we're not.)

This new weapon (of ours and our competitors) has a cost that is paid for in liberty of all citizens of the world, in the same way that specter of nuclear warfare diminishes us.

Setting aside good and evil, from a purely pragmatic standpoint I'm just not really seeing a way out for the US, aside from spending ourselves to death and the resulting a peasant uprising. At which point someone else can lead the race.

And once you get these systems running, these industries of Top Secret America going, ain't nobody shutting them down. I am not an apologist for our current state of surveillance but I am a pragmatist and I am pointing out what our current course of action is, as immoral as it may be.

Really, I'm ready for our Gene Roddenberry inspired utopia to come any day now.
posted by fontophilic at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2013


You're not a patriot. You're spying, prying scum.

While I look askance at his use of the word "patriot" as much as anyone, I think it's not really so great to just call him scum. While the NSA's actions create all kinds of uncomfortable precedents, are certain to be terribly misused if they haven't already, and are practically a wet dream for the next Republican president to get into the White House, I think it is possible for someone on the inside to look at the capabilities and think how good things can be done with this.

Indeed, it is certainly possible for good things to have already resulted from snooping the world's internet traffic. The key is, those good things are not worth it --yes, even if they've saved lives*-- and if we can't know what those good things are then their mere possibility cannot honestly be used to defend the program to the public.

* In for an ounce, in for a pound.
posted by JHarris at 1:49 PM on December 16, 2013


I think it's not really so great to just call him scum

Shaming is one of the few tools we have to fight back with.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:59 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is wrong and stupid to assert that all exchanges of liberty for security are a bad idea.

It's also wrong and stupid to not even read or seemingly comprehend the quote you're deriding. Sorry to "bandy about" quotes from Ben Franklin. I trust him way more any asswipe at Ft. Meade, that's for sure. And what about exchanging all of your privacy and freedom for no discernible gain in safety whatsoever? Just so thugs and badasses and 'heroes' can have better toys. In fact, even less safety, since now they might decide to come after you.

We are the enemy we're spying on. Your government does not like or trust you. And the feelings are becoming increasingly mutual. We can kill the world 12 times over at this point. When is enough? Security people are like rich people. A bit of wealth seems a good idea at first, but when is enough enough? And how much are you willing you destroy to collect more shit you don't even need at this point?

Scum never think they're scum. If you are involved willingly in something odious, sorry, you are odious too. And I also think that we have taken the excuse of saving lives to a ridiculous extreme. Wrap it all in heroes and patriotism and stopping child molesters and evil foreign religious nuts. Kill a bunch of people and claim you saved more than you killed. And surveil everybody else. Oh, and make millions! Sorry...you can claim you're Patriotic George Washington and Red White and Blue Ghandi and Captain America Jesus Christ rolled into one, but....scum.
posted by umberto at 2:04 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know who was a patriot? Ben Franklin. A Founding Fucking Father.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
--Benjamin Franklin


Ben Franklin did not say that. Ever.
Here’s an interesting historical fact I have dug up in some research for an essay I am writing about the relationship between liberty and security: That famous quote by Benjamin Franklin that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” does not mean what it seems to say. Not at all.
Second, Ben Franklin was America's first spymaster as the head of the Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress. It was the first Committee to engage in Intelligence, the first committee to have "secret" public actions that no person could view and was the spying arm of the Patriot cause.
In response to this request for secrecy, Congress did several things. First of all, Congress agreed to the “withholding the names of the persons they [the Committee of Secret Correspondence] has employed, or with whom they have corresponded.”[24] In addition, Congress recorded all of the decisions regarding the Committee of Secret Correspondence in “Secret Journals”, separate from the public journals used to record its decisions concerning other matters.[25] Finally, it allowed the committee to establish its own oath of secrecy, which was put in place on November 29, 1775[26] as well as a secrecy agreement for government employees.[27] The oath and agreement are below.
"RESOLVED, That every member of this Congress considers himself under the ties of virtue, honour and love of his country, not to divulge, directly or indirectly, any matter or thing agitated or debated in Congress, before the same shaft have been determined, without the leave of the Congress: nor any matter or thing determined in Congress, which a majority of the Congress shall order to be kept secret, And that if any member shall violate this agreement, he shall be expelled this Congress, and deemed an enemy to the liberties of America, and liable to be treated as such, and that every member signify his consent to this agreement by signing the same." [28]
posted by Ironmouth at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2013


Real journalists rip apart 60 Minutes' pro-NSA propaganda piece. Bonus: The person who wrote the piece is a former Fed who looks to soon take a job as a spook for the NYPD.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:38 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ironmouth: Thanks for that Franklin info! It's pretty awesome (particularly in regards to his involvement in intelligence!).

Now that you are here, will you perhaps acknowledge that Smith Vs Maryland might not apply to the NSA's activities?

That's apparently what this judge seems to think is the case:

"Government lawyers and the judges who found the NSA program legal pointed to a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, Smith v. Maryland, which found no search warrant was needed by police to install a device which recorded the numbers dialed on a particular phone line.
But Leon said the three-decade-old precedent was not applicable to a program like the NSA’s because of its sophistication and because telephone use has become far more intense in recent years."

posted by el io at 2:57 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Via Techdirt, Anthony DeRosa has compiled all the tweets he can find about this episode. Apparently even as propaganda it failed.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:27 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Edward R. Murrow would be ashamed of the CBS of today.

I guess it doesn't matter how bad your propaganda department is when you can read everyone's email.
posted by spitbull at 3:35 PM on December 16, 2013


Ironmouth: Thanks for that Franklin info! It's pretty awesome (particularly in regards to his involvement in intelligence!).

Now that you are here, will you perhaps acknowledge that Smith Vs Maryland might not apply to the NSA's activities?

That's apparently what this judge seems to think is the case:

"Government lawyers and the judges who found the NSA program legal pointed to a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, Smith v. Maryland, which found no search warrant was needed by police to install a device which recorded the numbers dialed on a particular phone line.
But Leon said the three-decade-old precedent was not applicable to a program like the NSA’s because of its sophistication and because telephone use has become far more intense in recent years."


I disagree with the judge. Here's why. In Smith the Supreme Court focused on the metadata:
This claim must be rejected. First, we doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial. All telephone users realize that they must "convey" phone numbers to the telephone company, since it is through telephone company switching equipment that their calls are completed. All subscribers realize, moreover, that the phone company has facilities for making permanent records of the numbers they dial, for they see a list of their long-distance (toll) calls on their monthly bills. In fact, pen registers and similar devices are routinely used by telephone companies "for the purposes of checking billing operations, detecting fraud, and preventing violations of law." United States v. New York Tel. Co., 434 U. S., at 174-175. Electronic equipment is used not only to keep billing records of toll calls, but also "to keep a record of all calls dialed from a telephone which is subject to a special rate structure." Hodge v. Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co., 555 F. 2d 254, 266 (CA9 1977) (concurring opinion). Pen registers are regularly employed "to determine whether a home phone is being used to conduct a business, to check for a defective dial, or to check for overbilling." Note, The Legal Constraints upon the Use of the Pen Register as a Law Enforcement Tool, 60 Cornell L. Rev. 1028, 1029 (1975) (footnotes omitted). Although most people may be oblivious to a pen register's esoteric functions, they presumably have some awareness of one common use: to aid in the identification of persons making annoying or obscene calls. See, e. g., Von Lusch v. C & P Telephone Co., 457 F. Supp. 814, 816 (Md. 1978); Note, 60 Cornell L. Rev., at 1029-1030, n. 11; Claerhout, The Pen Register, 20 Drake L. Rev. 108, 110-111 (1970).
In this case, the FISA approved collection of metadata serves the same purpose--its how to make sure the right phone number is being contacted, for billing for all of those things. Same metadata, same purpose, same everything. Snowden's stuff shows that they aren't collecting location metadata (see the Post article from last week for details). Therefore, this metadata should be allowed. Also the FISA court has already declared the program constitutional, so this is just one judge versus a panel.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:39 PM on December 16, 2013


fontophilic: "IAmBroom, ugh. No. I don't think you read the spirit of my post. Exasperated SERIOUSLYs aren't needed. If you're not interested in having a nuanced discussion and would rather trumpet moral outrage I'll let you have your fun and you can forget reading the rest of this comment."

Your comment, which was interpreted very similarly by others and not just myself, didn't convey that nuance very well.

The very first part of a nuanced discussion is communicating effectively.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:41 PM on December 16, 2013


I'm not an American and I think nationalism is one of the great human disasters of the last couple of centuries, so I'm not so reassured to know that it's all being done by patriotic Americans. Sorry.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:42 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not an American and I think nationalism is one of the great human disasters of the last couple of centuries, so I'm not so reassured to know that it's all being done by patriotic Americans. Sorry.

Everyone's doing it. the Chinese record tons of US cell calls verbatim from Cuba at Bejucal.

Canada has its own metadata bulk program in operation since 2005.

and the kicker: New Zealand passed a bill to allow surveillance on its own citizens this year.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:53 PM on December 16, 2013


Ben Franklin did not say that. Ever.

That is not what the linked article says.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:06 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this something I'd need a functioning Democracy to understand?
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:14 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everyone's doing it.

1. The United States, as home to much of the internet, is a special case, because they can get so much of it. Whatever happened to that "American exceptionalism?"

2. The sheer scale of its operations makes the NSA's efforts far more troubling. You'd expect something like this out of China, but it seems antithetical to the supposed spirit of the United States.

3. The existence of things like "national security letters," which forces tech companies to become unquestioning accomplices, compounds things, and is damaging the US tech sector. The existence of such huge secrets is poisonous to the very idea of democracy -- how do you expect people to vote on issues they aren't allowed to know about?

4. It makes the promises of Obama's administration as being transparent seem laughable on their face.

5. Something something off a bridge something something do it too?
posted by JHarris at 4:36 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the national security letters and the brokenness of the FISA court seem like the forest that isn't being seen for all the Smith v Maryland trees everyone's focused on. Honestly, an even broader reading of Smith, while really scary, wouldn't be as much of a problem as what we have right now if the systems set up to protect from abuse actually, y'know, seriously and proactively protected us from abuse, instead of just making a bunch of grumbling noises and absolutely nothing else of substance every time an inevitable abuse comes to light.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:52 PM on December 16, 2013


Everyone's doing it.

Good thing THAT bit of law and legal justification is out of the way.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:54 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


if the systems set up to protect from abuse actually, y'know, seriously and proactively protected us from abuse,

Does it help if Jim Sensenbrenner goes over to another country and says 'Hey, we failed at our job of oversight'?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:56 PM on December 16, 2013


In this case, the FISA approved collection of metadata serves the same purpose--its how to make sure the right phone number is being contacted, for billing for all of those things. Same metadata, same purpose, same everything.

No. The numbers I call have not been used for billing purposes for over a decade (YMMV). The storage of metadata is no-longer a business transaction record, it is purely a recording of my activity and associations. (Also, when you say "FISA-approved", you more correctly mean "FISA-disapproved-which-NSA-ignored"). The judge is correct - Maryland doesn't apply to this sort of abuse.
posted by anonymisc at 5:06 PM on December 16, 2013




The "healthiest mayonaise ever" Kickstarter advertisement at the end was intriguing.


You might wonder what is in the mayonnaise. Well, I can't tell you that. To do so would give other mayonnaise makers an advantage, and limit my ability to make mayonnaise successfully. I can't tell you how, but it would.

If you're an American citizen, you can be pretty confident that what you are eating is mayonnaise. And, even if you get a jar which is... amended, you probably won't notice, as long as you haven't exercised too violently or eaten Chinese food or schawarma lately. Or ever.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:27 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


and the kicker: New Zealand passed a bill to allow surveillance on its own citizens this year.

Oh believe me I know all about that -- I was part of the campaign to stop it passing. Hopefully the next government will completely review our intelligence agencies and their powers.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:35 PM on December 16, 2013


It's not everyone's doing it until the average citizen can do it against their government or other governments, too. Brin's transparent society or bust, baby.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:57 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Seriously, though - is this guy using revelations about the extent of the retention of data on US citizens as viral marketing for a mayonnaise Kickstarter? Because that is chutzpah.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:09 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ben Franklin did not say that. Ever.

Not only does the linked article not say this, I'm not sure how the author comes to the conclusion that Franklin is defending the essential liberty of the legislature to raise taxes. (I won't say the author is clearly wrong, just that he is not clearly right.) Here is the paragraph in which Franklin writes his famous words:
In fine, we have the most sensible Concern for the poor distressed Inhabitants of the Frontiers. We have taken every Step in our Power, consistent with the just Rights of the Freemen of Pennsylvania, for their Relief, and we have Reason to believe, that in the Midst of their Distresses they themselves do not wish us to go farther. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Such as were inclined to defend themselves, but unable to purchase Arms and Ammunition, have, as we are informed, been supplied with both, as far as Arms could be procured, out of Monies given by the last Assembly for the King’s Use; and the large Supply of Money offered by this Bill, might enable the Governor to do every Thing else that should be judged necessary for their farther Security, if he shall think fit to accept it. Whether he could, as he supposes, “if his Hands had been properly strengthened, have put the Province into such a Posture of Defence, as might have prevented the present Mischiefs,” seems to us uncertain; since late Experience in our neighbouring Colony of Virginia (which had every Advantage for that Purpose that could be desired) shows clearly, that it is next to impossible to guard effectually an extended Frontier, settled by scattered single Families at two or three Miles Distance, so as to secure them from the insiduous Attacks of small Parties of skulking Murderers: But thus much is certain, that by refusing our Bills from Time to Time, by which great Sums were seasonably offered, he has rejected all the Strength that Money could afford him; and if his Hands are still weak or unable, he ought only to blame himself, or those who have tied them.
The whole letter to the Governor of Pennsylvania (then a British colony), written in November, 1755, can be found among Franklin's collected papers.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:22 AM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


"...this guy using revelations about the extent of the retention of data on US citizens as viral marketing for a mayonnaise Kickstarter? Because that is chutzpah."

I got the impression his copy editing was interrupted by a phone call and the caller asked, "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?"
posted by klarck at 8:47 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, Jonathan Livengood, not only did Benjamin say exactly that, in writing, it also meant exactly what most people think it means. Franklin was railing against a government official who implied that people's lives would be threatened unless the legislature caved giving up some of their rights.
posted by JackFlash at 10:59 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Gen. Keith Alexander: This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, "If you give me full amnesty I'll let the other 40 go." What do you do?

He has this exactly backwards. It's astonishing. No, general, this is analogous to a hero rescuing 10 out of 50 hostages, then saying "Please stop trying to kill me and I'll let you keep the other 40."

You've made a major strategic blunder, general, and it is causing widespread, long-term harm to our liberty. The American people are asking you: Please correct it. Please protect us from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
posted by NiceKitty at 12:07 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I disagree with the judge.

Yes, well that's a far cry from your previous pontifications about how this was all a settled matter, and that we should just buck up and trust the government.

Either way, Franklin's quote is good for driving home a point, but beyond that it has little relevance in our networked world. NSA spying is an affront and danger to the very foundations of our democratic systems.

Not one apologist (here on metafilter) for NSA surveillance has even attempted to deal with the history of state surveillance in this country, and until they do I don't see why anyone should take what they say seriously. They clearly have A) not thought this through to its endpoint, or B) are shills for the state security/surveillance apparatus. There really is no middle ground on this issue. What we are confronted with is totalitarianism plain and simple...in fact it doesn't really get much more cut and dry than this...the NSA, its goals, and programs are, by definition, totalizing forces in our culture and society.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:23 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


In Smith the Supreme Court focused on the metadata

No, Smith v. Maryland focused on pen registers, and their finding was limited in scope.

Therefore, this metadata should be allowed. Also the FISA court has already declared the program constitutional, so this is just one judge versus a panel.

It's not as clear cut as you would like to have us believe.

Facebook and Interpersonal Privacy: Why the Third Party Doctrine Should Not Apply
Despite Smith’s implication that the Third Party Doctrine extends to Internet communications, the Supreme Court has not directly ruled on this issue and lower courts have disagreed on how to interpret the Third Party Doctrine in the Internet context. In 2012, the Court issued its most recent decision on technology and the Fourth Amendment, United States v. Jones, in which it held that placing a Global Positioning Satellite (“GPS”) tracker on a defendant’s car without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment. Yet this decision did not settle the issue. The justices concurring in Jones raised meaningful concerns about the viability of the Third Party Doctrine in today’s technology dominated world.

Automation and the Fourth Amendment
Properly conceptualizing the disclosure of personal information to automated systems also points to serious defects in current conceptions of how to apply older bodies of law to new and evolving technologies. Finally, it exposes an overlooked flaw in Maryland v. Smith, the most important precedent for the application of the Fourth Amendment to new communications technologies. The Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether any form of personal Internet data is protected by the Fourth Amendment. But, given the increasing number of lower court cases struggling with this issue in recent years, the Court is likely to do so in the relatively near future. When it does face this difficult question, the answer it gives may determine the course of informational privacy for decades, just as Olmstead v. United States and Katz v. United States did in the previous century. Yet it is uncertain, at best, that the Court will answer correctly—it has certainly failed to adapt the Fourth Amendment to new technologies before.

posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:02 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Snowden's stuff shows that they aren't collecting location metadata (see the Post article from last week for details).

Has anything you've said in this thread been accurate?

NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show

NSA tracking phone locations on ‘planetary scale’

NSA Wrongly Says Warrantless Mobile-Phone Location Tracking Is Legal

New documents show how the NSA infers relationships based on mobile location data
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:11 PM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]




Putin : I envy Obama, because he can spy and get away with it
(And proceeds to compare spies to prostitutes, albeit somewhat tong in cheek since he worked for the KGB)
posted by jeffburdges at 1:01 PM on December 19, 2013


Yeah... jeffburdges, I'm not sure that's realistic in any way. Obama doesn't get to brag about assassinating world leaders by using his signature batch of eau de polonium, for instance.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:36 PM on December 19, 2013


Isn't that the whole point? The Obama administration, NSA, etc. have all elevated dictators like Putin by engaging in similar behavior : mass surveillance of their own populations, mass assassinations abroad, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:28 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, yeah: I get that point. When Putin can pretend he's a ... less dictatorial leader than Obama/the US, it's a sad day for "The Land of the Free"(tm) imagery.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:23 AM on December 20, 2013


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