Repost from Slashdot

Before my earlier posts on the spying scandal slip behind the wall of the 24 post limit on Slashdot, I wanted to repost a couple here.

Here’s one from when AT&T was accused of forwarding all traffic to the NSA:

Now, are they talking about forwarding ALL AT&T traffic to NSA? I find that really really hard to believe. How much data is that? Can someone point to some known tech that can handle that….ALL that data? I’m not asking for “secret-I-bet-they-have-cold-fusion-computers” BS tech that someone *thinks* the NSA has.

You had it right in your first sentence. AT&T is forwarding all of their call data to the NSA. The NSA doesn’t need any super-cool tech in order to intercept this data since AT&T (and the other telecom companies) simply send this data directly to them. Don’t get me wrong, though – the NSA has some amazing technology. All of this data is processed, filtered, tagged and entered into a massive database.

I’m currently reading Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency [] by James Bamford. It’s not light reading, but it’s fascinating….and extremely disturbing. The fascinating part is that we’ve been here before. This exact scenario already happened in the 60′s and 70′s, until information about it was leaked (by the NY Times, no less) and it was investigated by the Church Committee [] circa 1975. It was called Project SHAMROCK [] then, and it involved the phone companies and Western Union delivering huge magnetic tape reels to the NSA on a regular basis. The project was so secret that only a few people within the NSA where even aware of it.

Until the Congressional investigation, hardly anybody within the White House or Justice Department had even heard whispers of it. Congress, of course, was completely out of the loop. This obsession with secrecy goes back to the very founding of the NSA. The NSA operated with no Congressional oversight for decades (it was called “No Such Agency”), and its existance probably wasn’t even constitutionally legal/valid, but the information that it provided to other agencies (mostly the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff) was so good that by the time Congress found out about it, it was indispensible. Today the NSA is the largest of the intelligence agencies (yes you read that right – larger than the CIA), although its exact budget is classified.

Second, this is just an accusation. There’s one guy that has some documents that say that’s what AT&T is doing. For all we know, this guy could be wearing tin-foil hats and singing to his dog about the aliens.

The only loonies around here are the people who think that the government isn’t spying on Americans every single day. Now, that doesn’t mean that they are listening to you in real time, and hanging on your every word. But all/most of your calls are recorded, digitized and handed to the NSA. From there, it is probably entered into a massive database. From there they can filter out unimportant calls and use data mining techniques to pull up relevant information. They use the ECHELON [] computer software to sift through information, which probably works similar to Google, with keyword searches and a list of search results.

If you still don’t believe me, why don’t you have a conversation with a friend, where you discuss planting bombs around town. See how long it takes the feds to show up.

The stuff in italics is another poster who I am quoting. Here’s another from later on in the thread:

That would only require AT&T to spend millions of dollars on additional infrastructure. AT&T being a business, they would fight the order tooth and nail. Has that happened?

Doubt it. The companies involved the first time around (during the Cold War) apparently did it for free. The government simply appealed to their patriotism (the military was the group that actually asked them – would you say no to the military?) and apparently never compensated them, though that may not really be the case. There was probably some tit-for-tat going on. Besides, any company wants to be on the government’s good side, right? They probably see it as a cost of doing business. See the recent Google Goes to China fiasco for more insight into that mindset. As long as it’s not prohibitively expensive (read: difficult to make a profit) most companies probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s all to save us from Teh Terr’rists after all.

I don’t doubt that the NSA has massive surveillance resources, but they’re not the fuckin’ Illuminati for christ’s sake. They’re a government organization staffed by human beings, and as such they probably don’t have their shit together enough to do all the shadowy things you think they’re doing.

You’re right, they’re not omnipotent, but they’re not idiots either. They own and operate what is probably the largest supercomputer on the planet. They operate in the shadows, with virtually no oversight from Congress, and the current administration is obsessed with secrecy and spying. Whether they can spy successfully is an open question, but there’s no question that they are trying. I think it’s actually much more likely that you are the deluded one. They are probably doing way more stuff than I have mentioned so far, and probably doing it well. Their foreign surveillance work is top-notch; we didn’t become the sole superpower by sucking at signals intelligence, that’s for sure. I would encourage you to do some research on the matter before falling back into that “teh guvmint is incompetent and they sux”-style of “logic.” I’ve provided facts, links and insight. Now it’s your turn to follow up.

Sorry for the indulgence, but I thought I made some good points. :-)


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