The New Hows and Whys of Global Eavesdropping
March 2, 2005 10:51 AM   Subscribe

The New Hows and Whys of Global Eavesdropping [book review: for access: "legion" "legion"] Remember chatter? After 9/11, it was all over the news. For months, snatches of cellphone conversations in Karachi or Tora Bora routinely made the front page. Television newscasters could chill the blood instantly by reporting on "increased levels of chatter" somewhere in the ether. But what exactly was it? Who was picking it up, and how were they making sense of it? Patrick Radden Keefe does his best to answer these questions and demystify a very mysterious subject in "Chatter," a beginner's guide to the world of electronic espionage and the work of the National Security Agency, responsible for communications security and signals intelligence, or "sigint." In a series of semiautonomous chapters, he describes Echelon, the vast electronic intelligence-gathering system operated by the United States and its English-speaking allies; surveys the current technology of global eavesdropping; and tries to sort out the vexed issue of privacy rights versus security demands in a world at war with terrorism.
posted by Postroad (16 comments total)
"privacy rights" is just a fancy way of saying that because of laws it's England that spies on Americans in the US, and then gives the US that information (instead of the US spying on its own directly).
posted by clevershark at 11:06 AM on March 2, 2005

This just in, Patrick Radden Keefe found dead in his apartment. Police do not suspect foul play.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:10 AM on March 2, 2005

Interesting stuff - the quote about how "the only people who think intelligence wins wars are intelligence people" surprised me. Perhaps we have over-emphasized the role it plays? Perhaps we like that idea, because war then becomes more "clean" and "abstract"...Spies and Hackers juggling datafeeds and intel is a lot more palatable than real bombs and guns.

Hadn't thought of it that way. OTOH, what might have been true for someone who fought in a war a few decades ago might be less true in the Brave New World of asymmetric, grass-roots warfare.
posted by freebird at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2005

posted by spock at 11:25 AM on March 2, 2005

I can highly recommend both of Bamsey's books: "Insides The Puzzle Palace" & "Body of Secrets".

Any place that buys computers by the acre and keeps an eye on everything is worth keeping track of.
posted by Relay at 11:35 AM on March 2, 2005

Echelon: The chatter box you never hear.

the quote about how "the only people who think intelligence wins wars are intelligence people" surprised me. Perhaps we have over-emphasized the role it plays?

Intelligence can aid in the winning of wars and in some instances through history, have won them. The question is what to do with said Intel. Sun-Tzu thought gave great thought to this matter. As does about every military writer worth his/her salt.
remember folks intelligence is gathering information, the real pay-off is finding ones intentions
posted by clavdivs at 11:50 AM on March 2, 2005

hi clavdivs!
posted by matteo at 12:13 PM on March 2, 2005

clavdivs -

As my prof said in my Byzantine Empire class, the problem with good intelligence is, you never really know when it's done something right. You only really notice intelligence when it screws up.
posted by graymouser at 12:29 PM on March 2, 2005

Pepsi Blue.

Too bad. This is an interesting topic, and it could have been an interesting thread if you'd put any effort into this post. If you're going to link to a book review, why not just link to the page for the book? At least then you'd have gotten both a book review and an excerpt! Let's hear it for primary source materials! Or, gosh, maybe you could have gotten something off this page of Echelon research materials, which includes a good overview of Echelon. Or this one. Or this one. Or how about any of the related Metafilter discussions?

Good idea, bad execution. I know people have recently complained about GoogleFilter in Metatalk, but the recent rash of NYTBookReviewFilter is even worse.
posted by casu marzu at 12:38 PM on March 2, 2005

That's why my roof has no overhangs.
posted by HTuttle at 12:47 PM on March 2, 2005

I've never heard the phrase "privacy agnostic" until reading that article. It's a nice doublespeak way of saying "I don't really know where to draw the line".
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 1:23 PM on March 2, 2005

Reading Tom Clancy can keep one current on humint and sigint. More technical detail than most spec sheets. Did Tom know something the administration ignored when he had the airliner crash into the joint session of Congress? There had already been a crash into the Empire State Building. Did Tom read Osama? Or did Osama read Tom?
posted by Cranberry at 2:05 PM on March 2, 2005

There had already been a crash into the Empire State Building.

Except that one was an accident, and thus probably only served as a template for "how do we keep planes from flying into tall buildings by accident" rather than "how do we keep planes from flying into tall buildings on purpose."
posted by Cyrano at 2:16 PM on March 2, 2005

"Chatter" always struck me as a risky source of intelligence. It's one thing if you hear several independent sources say that someone will blow up building X at so-and-so date. But it strikes me as risky to deduce anything from the mere volume of communications. Chatter is easy to fake; just look at the fictitious army the Allies set up before D-Day.
posted by Triplanetary at 5:26 PM on March 2, 2005

This link about chatter and D-Day is probably better and more to the point than the one in my last comment. Sorry about that.
posted by Triplanetary at 5:32 PM on March 2, 2005

Cranberry, the idea that passenger jets are flying missiles waiting to be utilised did not originate with either Clancy or Bin Laden, AFAIK. Anyone who knew that planes carry alot of fuel would be able to make the link with a modicum of imagination, and I am sure they did.
I am also sure that I heard the concept discussed in the press many years before the successful attacks by Bin Laden funded Saudis in the US.
'Intelligence' may have some effect on the outcome of a war, but it is of little use during peacetime. Witness the nutty Stasi agents in East Berlin prior to the fall of the wall. Many would simply write down their bizarre fantasies and present them as reports.
Not unlike the Bush and Blair governments, now that I think about it.
posted by asok at 4:12 AM on March 3, 2005

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