‘Perfect Sense’ Snooping

May 20, 2014

global-times-nsa-cartoonClear half-moon hanging out over the Pacific Ocean this early Tuesday on California’s north coast as we spiral on into the work week.
There some chance of rain the next few days, but if anything, the precipitation will be misty drizzle — heavy rain is not our forte here on the coast.

And yesterday, California joined a small, but growing cadre of states who have/or going to tell the NSA to eat shit.

(Illustration found here).

My state is just responding to the revelation-horror of the NSA spying on everything and everybody. That’s been pretty-much a public knowledge the last year. And in tune, also just yesterday, The Intercept reported on another NSA ring of snooping, an operation of top-unmitigated gall:

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government.
Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.
SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya.
But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.
All told, the NSA is using MYSTIC to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people.
And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere.

When U.S. drug agents need to tap a phone of a suspected drug kingpin in another country, they call up their counterparts and ask them set up an intercept.
To facilitate those taps, many nations – including the Bahamas – have hired contractors who install and maintain so-called lawful intercept equipment on their telecommunications.
With SOMALGET, it appears that the NSA has used the access those contractors developed to secretly mine the country’s entire phone system for “signals intelligence” –recording every mobile call in the country.
“Host countries,” the document notes, “are not aware of NSA’s SIGINT collection.”
“Lawful intercept systems engineer communications vulnerabilities into networks, forcing the carriers to weaken,” says Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Host governments really should be thinking twice before they accept one of these Trojan horses.”
The DEA has long been in a unique position to help the NSA gain backdoor access to foreign phone networks.
“DEA has close relationships with foreign government counterparts and vetted foreign partners,” the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts reported in a 2004 memo.
Indeed, with more than 80 international offices, the DEA is one of the most widely deployed U.S. agencies around the globe.
But what many foreign governments fail to realize is that U.S. drug agents don’t confine themselves to simply fighting narcotics traffickers.
“DEA is actually one of the biggest spy operations there is,” says Finn Selander, a former DEA special agent who works with the drug-reform advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
“Our mandate is not just drugs. We collect intelligence.”

The presentation doesn’t say whether the NSA shared the information with the DEA.
But the drug agency’s Special Operations Divison has come under fire for improperly using classified information obtained by the NSA to launch criminal investigations – and then creating false narratives to mislead courts about how the investigations began.
The tactic – known as parallel construction – was first reported by Reuters last year, and is now under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
So: Beyond a desire to bust island pot dealers, why would the NSA choose to apply a powerful collection tool such as SOMALGET against the Bahamas, which poses virtually no threat to the United States?
The answer may lie in a document that characterizes the Bahamas operation as a “test bed for system deployments, capabilities, and improvements” to SOMALGET.
The country’s small population – fewer than 400,000 residents – provides a manageable sample to try out the surveillance system’s features.
Since SOMALGET is also operational in one other country, the Bahamas may be used as a sort of guinea pig to beta-test improvements and alterations without impacting the system’s operations elsewhere.
“From an engineering point of view it makes perfect sense,” says the former engineer. “Absolutely.”

Read the whole piece, makes perfect sense — if you’re an asshole!
And that’s why California and other states have formed a stop-gap to check these senseless shitheads from spying on everything, all the time, just for the sake of being able to do it.
Via Reuters:

The federal government would need a warrant from a judge if it wants the cooperation of California officials in searching residents’ cellphone and computer records, under a bill making its way through the state legislature.
The bill, which passed the state Senate with just one opposing vote on Monday, was introduced in the wake of information leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showing massive internal surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA.
“The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is very clear. It says the government shall not engage in unreasonable search and seizure,” said the bill’s author, Democratic State Senator Ted Lieu, of Torrance.
“The National Security Agency’s massive and indiscriminate collecting of phone data on all Americans, including more than 38 million Californians, is a threat to our liberty and freedom.”

The California bill is the farthest along of several such measures that have been introduced in eight states, according to Lieu’s spokesman Jeff Gozzo, including Alaska, Arizona and Oklahoma.
It comes as Congress wrestles with a similar bill at the national level.

And yes, indeed, the DC shitheads are also working up a bill, but “wrestles” may not be the right word — ‘gutting‘ might be closer to the tooth.
The USA Freedom Act, which is supposed to tone down the NSA’s bullshit, but instead, the whole shebang is mutating into a toothless, empty piece of shit — yesterday via Politico (h/t Marcy Wheeler):

House leadership and Obama administration officials met with committee members Sunday to negotiate changes to key NSA reform legislation, parting late in the evening without reaching a final resolution, said a congressional staffer close to the process.
Still, it seems clear that the USA FREEDOM Act, approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees little more than a week ago, will not reach the House floor intact.
Some passages have been watered down already, the staffer acknowledged, declining to go into specifics.
The bill is set for “possible consideration” this week, according to the schedule circulated by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office.
Word of the talks caused some of the bill’s most ardent privacy and civil liberties backers to cry foul and say they could withdraw support.
Areas of concern to watchdogs include possible removal of transparency language allowing companies to tell their customers about the broad numbers of lawful intercept requests they receive; and a debate on whether the search terms used by the NSA to search communications records should be narrowly defined in statute.
“The version we fear could now be negotiated in secret and introduced on the House floor may not move us forward on NSA reform,” said human rights organization Access.
“I am gravely disappointed if the House leadership and the administration chose to disrupt the hard-fought compromise that so many of us were pleased to support just two weeks ago,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

Wheeler concludes:

And while it’s not clear these secret changes would broaden the scope outside of counterterrorism (though I think that’s possible already), it does seem clear the Administration is pushing for these changes because the already weak bill is too strong for them.
It’s really hard to conclude this bill was ever an attempt to do anything but outsource one aspect of the dragnet to the telecoms, so as to “legally” access geolocation data, and the rest is an attempt to broaden the dragnet.

In other words, not only are there no changes, but the whole system might just get worse.

And if this isn’t stopped, or at least checked a bit, what will happen?
David MaCaray at Counterpunch goes over to the “private sector” for a look, and gee-whiz, Mr. Orwell, modern life is known to everybody:

How this applies to “labor” is especially disturbing.
Before hiring a job applicant, a company now has the ability to know more about you than was ever dreamed possible.
It’s no exaggeration to say that prospective bosses can know more about you than members of your immediate family know.
All they need do is purchase the information from one of the hundreds of databases available.
Concerned with rising health care costs and unwilling to take a gamble on “unhealthy” workers, future employers can learn how much snack food you buy, how much sausage you eat, how much booze you drink, whether you belong to a gym, and whether or not you’re lying about being a “non-smoker.”
Concerned with your “moral character” or sexual proclivities, they can retrace your steps on the Internet.
Concerned with your political beliefs, they can find out if you subscribe to any left-wing magazines or belong to any lefty organizations (“Are you now or have you ever been….?”).
Access to this information is for sale.

Oh, glorious future, come forth in a world of perfect sense.

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