Posts Tagged ‘National Security Agency’

NSA covers less than 10% of the world’s mobile communications!

December 5, 2013

It’s only arithmetic!

The NSA has much room for improvement and probably needs to increase its budget by a factor of 10.

  1. The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world.
  2. The ITU expects the number of cell phone accounts to rise from 6 billion now to 7.3 billion in 2014, compared with a global population of 7 billion.
  3. (NSA) records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices.
  4. People make, receive or avoid 22 phone calls every day.
  5. The NSA has a budget (secret) of about $52 billion (estimate).

Number of records available to be spied on = 6 billion x 22 /2 = 66 billion.

Five billion records may seem like a big number but it is not as comprehensive as one would expect to see from anybody aspiring to be “Big Brother”. The NSA records only 7.58% of the world’s mobile communications.

If the NSA (and Obama)  truly aspire to being the “Big Brother” of this Brave New World, they are going to have to step up their game. They need to increase their surveillance of mobile communications by at least a factor of 10. Moreover they need to start recording more of the content and not just the location of these devices.

Clearly the NSA needs a budget of about $500 billion per year just to come close to this goal!

Intelligence Agencies have become a law unto themselves – by public consent

November 2, 2013

No politician wants to oppose anything said to be in the interests of National Security. Even politicians on oversight committees and the like would prefer not to know too much about the substance of what the Intelligence and Security Agencies get up to as long as proper form is observed. Very few politicians would have the courage to apply a moral or ethical judgement to what their charges get up to. They are quite ready to apply budget limitations or disapprove funding for a project but rarely to object to the substance of any program.

Invoking the spectre of “terrorism” or the “war on terrorism” appears to silence politicians with remarkable rapidity and to bypass any attempt to apply ethical standards. The end justifies any means whether it involves simple snooping or secret renditions, secret prisons or torture. If we judge by the level to which “fear of terrorism” governs our actions one could conclude that the terrorist attacks have mainly achieved their objective of getting their targets to operate in an atmosphere of fear.

The Snowden revelations are fascinating. It would seem that the Intelligence Community works across national boundaries – and it seems – behind the backs of their respective political masters. Almost as if these agencies in different countries apply their own code of ethics or morality. it seems they decide among themselves as to what level of transgressions of the integrity of private individuals  is acceptable and proper. US Agencies worked together with British, German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence agencies – probably on their own initiative and without feeling any need to inform their oversight politicians – about the details of their collaboration. After all, these politicians “do not need to know” and to help matters along, “they do not wish to know”.

But politicians only reflect the views of the general public.  Most of the security checking and scans at airports is of little use. The bans on electronic equipment during flights is totally pointless. But we, the general public, accept it since it panders to our fears. We accept the excesses of intelligence and security agencies for the same reason. So far the 21st century is characterised by actions being subservient to the “fear of terror”. And that I would define as cowardice. Courage consists of fears being subservient to actions.

Intelligence and Security Agencies have become a law unto themselves and our politicians have acquiesced on our behalf.

The Guardian: 

The German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence services have all developed methods of mass surveillance of internet and phone traffic over the past five years in close partnership with Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency.

The bulk monitoring is carried out through direct taps into fibre optic cables and the development of covert relationships with telecommunications companies. A loose but growing eavesdropping alliance has allowed intelligence agencies from one country to cultivate ties with corporations from another to facilitate the trawling of the web, according to GCHQ documents leaked by the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The files also make clear that GCHQ played a leading role in advising its European counterparts how to work around national laws intended to restrict the surveillance power of intelligence agencies.

The German, French and Spanish governments have reacted angrily to reports based on National Security Agency (NSA) files leaked by Snowden since June, revealing the interception of communications by tens of millions of their citizens each month. US intelligence officials have insisted the mass monitoring was carried out by the security agencies in the countries involved and shared with the US.

The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, suggested to Congress on Tuesday that European governments’ professed outrage at the reports was at least partly hypocritical. “Some of this reminds me of the classic movie Casablanca: ‘My God, there’s gambling going on here,’ ” he said.

Swedenwhich passed a law in 2008 allowing its intelligence agency to monitor cross-border email and phone communications without a court order, has been relatively muted in its response.


Why bug the papal election if not to influence the election – or the next Pope?

October 30, 2013

The report is that the NSA eavesdropped on the papal election. That they may have done so does not surprise. But if they did they must have had some purpose – one presumes. And what other purpose could there be except to either influence the election itself, or to gain influence over whoever was elected pope?

Were the US cardinals privy to the bugging by the NSA? Were they perhaps getting secret text messages from the NSA as to how the election was progressing? Perhaps they were even getting instructions. How heavy was the betting on the outcome of the election? Any possibilities of spot-fixing? The Sistine Chapel is supposed to have the means to scramble all mobile signals but getting past these ought to be child’s play for the NSA.

The possibilities are endless. It has all the makings of a wonderful conspiracy theory. Maybe even another book by Dan Brown? Perhaps the NSA can even listen in on Pope Francis using his hotline to his Superior.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true?

I shall be following Papal pronouncements with great interest to see how closely Pope Francis follows a pro-US line!!!!!!!!!


US secret services allegedly eavesdropped on cardinals before the conclave in March to elect a new pope, Italian weekly magazine Panorama claimed Wednesday.

“The National Security Agency wiretapped the pope,” the magazine said, accusing the United States of listening in to telephone calls to and from the Vatican, including the accommodation housing cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he was elected Pope Francis.

The allegations follow a report on surveillance website Cryptome which said the United States intercepted 46 million telephone calls in Italy in December 2012 and early January 2013.

Among those, “there are apparently also calls from and to the Vatican,” Panorama said.

“It is feared that the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave,” it said, adding that there were “suspicions that the conversations of the future pope may have been monitored”.

Bergoglio “had been a person of interest to the American secret services since 2005, according to Wikileaks,” it said.

The bugged conversations were divided into four categories: “leadership intentions”, “threats to financial systems”, “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights,” it claimed.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said “we have heard nothing of this and are not worried about it.”

Obama’s leadership style is one of “Don’t ask, don’t be told”!

October 29, 2013

When one is President (or a CEO or a General), there are some “unacceptable” activities and behaviours that your organisation indulges in that it is better not to know.  This is a delicate skill that is not easily learned. To know, but not to be seen to know. To be informed but to avoid being told what you don’t wish to know. So that ignorance always remains as a defence if the “unacceptable” action or behaviour is ever revealed.

“Don’t ask, don’t be told”.

I don’t usually expect the Washington Post to be overly critical of a sitting Democratic President. But Obama’s apparent ignorance of what is done by his administration is getting embarrassing. A couple of articles in the Washington Post by Dana Millbank and Jennifer Rubin take Obama to task.

Jennifer Rubin: The list is growing every week: The IRS scandal, the deteriorating security situation in Libya, spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, spying on journalists and the Obamacare mess. Those are just a few of the things we have been told at one time or another that President Obama he didn’t know about before learning about them in the media. Note to media: You have a critical job in briefing the president, so err on side of over-inclusion.

Then there are the things he had wrong or knew better but said anyway: There is a fatwa in Iran against nuclear weapons, “You will get to keep your health-care plan,” the Benghazi attack was related to an anti- Muslim video, and no predecessor had been compelled to negotiate a budget deal in the context of a potential government shutdown.

This prompts several questions: Who is running the government? Why is the president content not to know so many things? At this point one has to conclude he is intentionally ignorant.  …….

….. The list goes on. You would think the president at some point would be embarrassed to be the least-informed man in Washington, D.C.

Dana MillbankFor a smart man, President Obama professes to know very little about a great number of things going on in his administration.

On Sunday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that he didn’t learn until this summer that the National Security Agency had been bugging the phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for nearly five years. 

That followed by a few days a claim by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that Obama didn’t know about problems with the Web site before the rest of the world learned of them after the Oct. 1 launch.

It stretches credulity to think that the United States was spying on world leaders without the president’s knowledge, or that he was blissfully unaware of huge technical problems that threatened to undermine his main legislative achievement. But on issues including the IRS targeting flap and the Justice Department’s use of subpoenas against reporters, White House officials have frequently given a variation on this theme.

Question: What did Obama know and when did he know it?

Answer: Not much, and about a minute ago…….

Some might argue that this is not a “leadership” style but an abdication of leadership.



Has Facebook reinstated beheading videos for the NSA or just for revenue – or for both?

October 23, 2013

That Facebook allows NSA access to all its material has become clear from the Snowden leaks.

In addition to phone records and email logs, the National Security Agency uses Facebook and other social media profiles to create maps of social connections — including those of American citizens.

That beheading and other videos with gratuitous violence are often uploaded on  Facebook is apparent (and whichever way Facebook twists and turns it is equally apparent that they must stand as the publishers – if not the authors – of such material). That much of the uploaded material is faked is also apparent (especially from areas of conflict). It is the gratuitous violence which attracts the voyeuristic surfers like a crowd gathering at the scene of a bloody incident. The sight of vultures gathering at the carcass of a kill attract even more scavengers of all kinds. It is the gatherings of the crowds which increases the revenue generating traffic for Facebook.

The more bloodstains on the road the larger the crowd of ghouls who gather. But among the ghouls are also perpetrators returning to the scene of their crimes where the “incident” was not just an accident. And that interests the NSA.

Why then has Facebook removed its ban on such material? There are very few voices supporting the move.

Who gains? Why the NSA and Facebook. The NSA needs material to mine in its search for the “bad” guys. And people who behead others or fake such pictures or are inspired by such material are of special interest. And Facebook wants the revenues.

ArsTechnicaFacebook said that overall, it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests from authorities in the second half of 2012, pertaining to between 18,000 and 19,000 individual Facebook accounts. …. By the end of July 2013, we learned directly from an FISC judge that no corporation ever served with a “business record” court order under the Patriot Act has ever challenged one. This is despite the fact that the law provides them a means to do so.

Judging by what Facebook does – and not by what it says – also suggests that they are a lot closer to the NSA than they would like their users to know.

Beforeitsnews: About a year after Facebook reportedly joined PRISM, Max Kelly, the social network’s chief security officer left for a job at the National Security Agency, either a curious career move or one that makes complete sense. The Chief Security Officer at a tech company is primarily concerned with keeping its information inside the company. Now working for an agency that tries to gather as much information as it can, Kelly’s new job is sort of a complete reversal.

And it does not matter where in the world you are. If you are on Facebook your information is in a security agency’s database somewhere. It may not have been flagged as being of special interest but it’s there. If not at the NSA then surely at GCHQ or with the Germans or with the Russian agencies. Even if meta-data is only kept for some limited period of time – once your existence has been registered it can never be deregistered. And if the initial data was “flagged” for any reason then that individual will forever be under surveillance.

German helicopter probes US consulate in Frankfurt for spy station

September 10, 2013

The US NSA’s wide-spread surveillance of friends and foes alike revealed by the Snowden documents is creating an atmosphere of distrust. South American countries are not pleased after the revelations that leading politicians have had their e-mails intercepted and hacked by the NSA. Of course many of the intelligence agencies in European countries have been complicit in the indiscriminate surveillance. Now it seems that the NSA have also probably been helping US companies by spying on their rivals such as Petrobras, SWIFT and other foreign firms.

In Sweden you haven’t really arrived if you aren’t important enough to have had your e-mail intercepted!

But suspicions are now running very high about all US installations.

The Local:

A German police helicopter has flown low over the US Consulate in Frankfurt looking for a secret listening station, prompting a call from the American ambassador to Germany’s foreign ministry.

The helicopter circled low over America’s consulate in Frankfurt on August 28th on the orders of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Ronald Pofalla, magazine Focus reported on Monday.

Pofalla had declared the NSA spying scandal – sparked by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of a mass surveillance programme – over. 

But the helicopter flight, whose mission was to gather evidence of the supposed spying station – hints at the German government’s lack of trust in its ally’s spying activities on German soil. The helicopter slowly flew twice over the consulate at a height of 60 metres to photograph the site, Focus reported. 

Probably the only safe course is now for any country and for any company with US competitors to assume that they are being spied upon and to assume that every US government installation abroad is involved in the surveillance.

A democratic police state?

August 9, 2013

Being “democratic” has increasingly become the cloak under which the oppression of minorities can be carried out without much criticism. Though constitutions are supposed to enshrine the values and fundamental principles which protect minorities from excesses of the “majority” –  following the majority view is itself the cornerstone for an ostensible “democracy”. And every constitution has built-in mechanisms – usually more complex than just a simple majority vote – by which it can be amended to suit the wishes of the majority.

Which is what happened in Egypt where a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood put in place a constitution which would have ensured the oppression of non-Muslim minorities. Which is what applies in Russia where the majority feel more comfortable with an authoritarian government. Which is what is happening in Libya after the overthrow of Gadaffi’s regime. Which was happening in Tunisia. Which is happening in Hungary. Which has just happened in Zimbabwe. Which is what threatens in Afghanistan.

But it also happens in well established democracies. Coercive and oppressive measures to be applied to minorities can always be justified in any democracy provided it can be shown to be the “majority” view as expressed by the “democratic institutions” in place. To oppress a minority for “the common good” is always possible and justifiable – even in a supposed democracy.

And so it is also in the US. Actions which are more reminiscent of a police state of the cold-war era can be and are justified because Congress – as a democratic institution – allows it. If it was the objective of the 9/11 terrorists to undermine the democracy of the US, then the US – under the cloak of its “War on Terror” – has itself achieved part of that objective.

Ladar Levison who is the owner of the encrypted email service Lavabit has been forced to cease operation. Presumably because Snowden used the service. He has this to say:

My Fellow Users,

I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.

What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.

Ladar Levison
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

The New Yorker writes:

As Kevin Poulsen and others have pointed out, our collective experience has prepared us to guess what is going on here: Levison got either a national-security letter “or a full blown search or eavesdropping warrant.” In the weeks since the Guardian and Washington Post first began publishing stories with Snowden’s documents, the picture of the National Security Agency’s domestic-surveillance practices that’s come together is different from the one most everyone held before we’d ever heard Snowden’s name. And it has left the Administration’s explanations of what it does and doesn’t do looking pretty spotty, and at times just false. …..

…. The extreme example that an unnamed official gave Savage is a search for a phone number the N.S.A. believes terrorists are using to call each other. What about a name? Could the N.S.A. read e-mails from members of the public if they simply discuss the case of someone the government has said is a threat? It sounds like it. This is dangerous; we already have Senators constrained from talking about what they know. We can’t all be afraid to ask questions; for a democracy, the most threatening thing would be the absence of such conversations. ….

Is there an element of anti-Snowden PR in the current US security alert?

August 3, 2013

We shall never know of course.

Edward Snowden has revealed the absolutely massive scale on which the NSA gathers information – almost indiscriminately. The UK government and German government agencies are apparently complicit in this dredging of information. But in spite of this the US and its allies were not capable of anticipating events in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab spring in particular seems to have caught all the Western intelligence agencies napping. The apparent lack of intelligence analysis about Egypt is particularly interesting. The threat to Mubarak – as close an ally of the US as you could get outside of Israel – was not anticipated. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood was not anticipated. The dethronement of Mursi by the Army was not anticipated. The attack on the US Embassy in Libya – which was not some spontaneous mob action, but a planned attack  – was not anticipated.

The indiscriminate volume of intelligence gathering does not seem to be matched by the analytical capabilities of the intelligence gatherers. But they did find Osama – even if it took ten years. They did find the Boston bombers – very quickly but only after the event. But the intelligence for the drone attacks does not seem – from the number of civilians and children killed – to be very precise.

Post Snowden there is now considerable criticism even within the US about the level of intelligence gathering and leaves Obama and the Democrats looking like the enemies of civil liberties. The “escape” of Snowden and his asylum application in Russia leaves the Democratic administration in Washington looking inept at worst and severely embarrassed at best. After Snowden was granted a years residence in Russia, the White House media response was mere thrashing about. A summit meeting to be held this fall was threatened (does Putin even care?). Even the venue of next G20 meeing planned for St. Petersberg was “questioned” by a blustering White House spokesman.

And now comes this announcement of a Security Alert and an Al Qaida threat (unspecified) in North Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps there is a real threat. If it does not materialise then the NSA can take credit for thwarting the threat (even if it never existed). If some act of terror does materialise during August, the intelligence agencies will pat themselves on the back (but someone else will be blamed for not preventing the event).

BBC: The US state department has issued a global travel alert because of an unspecified al-Qaeda threat.

In a statement, the department said the potential for an attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa. It comes shortly after the US announced nearly two dozen embassies and consulates would be shut on Sunday.

The alert expires on 31 August 2013, the department said. It recommended US citizens travelling abroad be vigilant. “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement said.

Maybe there is a real threat — and maybe there is not. Certainly the track record of the intelligence agencies correctly forecasting events in the Middle East and North Africa is not terribly impressive.

The White House clearly does see an increasing need to justify the scope of its intelligence gathering activities. Obama needs to show his own left wing that he is not a “bad guy”. The Administration also needs to show that Snowden is not a hero and a defender of civil liberties and that he has actually put national security at risk. All these are matters of perception and can be addressed by “spin”.  I just observe that this current Security Alert – whether the threat is real or not – does achieve that – if only partially.

Repression of the bulk of the people, by some of the people for the benefit of others of the people

July 24, 2013

How the political tables do turn.

It seems more than a little ironic – but quite delicious nevertheless – that a Democratic President in the White House is trying to block an amendment by a Republican in the House which aims to restrict the unbridled spying by the Government on the bulk of the people, on the grounds that the amendment is a ” blunt approach” which ” is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process”.  

Business InsiderIn a terse statement late Tuesday evening, the White House blasted the so-called “Amash Amendment” that would limit the National Security Agency’s ability to collect data on personal phone communications, calling the program crucial to national security. 

 “We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

The amendment is one of several the House of Representatives will consider to the 2014 Defense Appropriations Bill. It was introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican from Michigan, and has earned bipartisan backing from, among others, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Conyers is a co-sponsor.

The amendment would “end authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act,” as well as prevent the NSA from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, “including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.” It is targeted at the first part of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in disclosures to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald.

Tuesday’s statement clearly shows that the White House is worried about it passing. The NSA is also worried — it held a “top secret” meeting with members of Congress to lobby against the amendment. 

Here’s the full statement from Carney:

In light of the recent unauthorized disclosures, the President has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens.  The Administration has taken various proactive steps to advance this debate including the President’s meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, his public statements on the disclosed programs, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s release of its own public statements, ODNI General Counsel Bob Litt’s speech at Brookings, and ODNI’s decision to declassify and disclose publicly that the Administration filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  We look forward to continuing to discuss these critical issues with the American people and the Congress.

However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools.  This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.  We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.

It must be a little galling for President Obama that history will probably show a Democratic President as being more “repressive” of citizens than most Republican Presidents. But probably not as galling as having a US citizen who discloses his Administration’s repression of US citizens now receiving sanctuary and seeking asylum in Russia!

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