I’ve always been a sucker for spy novels. Give me some intrepid Brit or American buckling swash (secretly) in some Commie totalitarian cesspool, and I’m good, especially if KGB blood spills.
So I was in the library looking for another good spy read when “The Way of the Knife” caught my eye. But it’s nonfiction … written about the CIA’s role in the Global War on Terror by Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, a 2009 Pulitzer winner for his reporting in the Sandbox.
Frankly, the Times is not my favorite paper. They have absolutely no respect for the Second Amendment, or the Fifth, but sometimes they get their knickers in a twist about First and Fourth Amendment issues, and write righteously there. Might Mazzetti be worth a read? He is – “Knife” will make you squirm.
About 40 pages in is a passage about CIA technical teams being sent in 2002 to the American consulate at Peshawar in western Pakistan, near Afghanistan: Their job was to clandestinely use “special equipment to intercept communications” of al-Qaeda’s network. Once operating, writes Mazzetti, “the database of suspicious cell phone numbers” being tracked “expanded dramatically. Twelve numbers turned into one hundred, one hundred into twelve hundred.”
Then, “CIA operatives would pore over a thick stack of transcripts from intercepted communications” and plan capture operations with the Pakistani secret police.
Nice. As I nodded off, I wondered if our very own National Security Agency (NSA) was doing the same thing stateside with their big new server farm down in Bluffdale, Utah. Guess what? Next morning, the news hits that some wonk spilled NSA’s beans to the Guardian in England. What is NSA up to? As reported in the Guardian, since April 25, a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing, America’s secret FISA court (authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) issued a secret order directing Verizon “to turn over all its call records for a three-month period.” Also affected were AT&T and Sprint, according to the Wall Street Journal – 261 million cell users in all.
The FISA secret order did not allow actual call content like the CIA was doing in Pakistan, just the “metadata” of the calls and their patterns.
So what, you say? Some of you have probably stumbled across “network” sites that have names connected by lines. One is Muckety.com, which “maps relations and measures influence” of names you read in the news. Muckety can actually be pretty interesting – just imagine how interesting a Muckety for phone numbers is to NSA geeks and subcontractors wanting to keep their six-figure salaries.
Now, replace the names with numbers and you see how NSA’s system works. 406-754-6637 calls 213-867-5309 and 900-468-8255. Since 867-5309 sells encryption gear and the 900 number is an arms dealer in the Seychelles under a FISA court secret warrant – Dude, all I wanted was small rifle primers, honest!
But that’s not all. Leaker Edward Snowden also blabbed to the Guardian (and the Washington Post) about PRISM, the “top-secret data-mining programme” with direct access to “the servers of nine internet companies” including Google, Facebook, Microsoft – this occurred under Bush and was extended under Obama. Direct access!
The Guardian also reported the existence of Boundless Informant (BI), a program that “organizes and indexes metadata,” you know, the phone logs? Right now, BI is focused mostly on Iran (tops with 14 billion records), Pakistan, Jordan and other Mideast nations, but it’s nothing to apply BI to the Verizon records with another secret court order.
NSA is doing this stuff – nobody is denying anything Snowden ratted on. President Obama tried to defend the NSA, declaring, “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.” Wow, someone needs to check if Ben Franklin’s grave is now a crater.
A little while back I wrote about Big Data. The difference between Verizon or Google mining your “stuff” versus NSA doing it is pretty simple: Private sector data mining is all about making you an offer you can’t refuse. You can, of course.
But what if the government mines your data, then makes an offer you can’t refuse? Can you?
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