Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Government stenography on the Snowden leaks

Michael Riley does a piece of stenography for the national security establishment in Snowden's Access to NSA's Deepest Secrets Disputed (Print title: What Snowden Doesn't Know) Bloomberg Businessweek 07/18/2013.

The feds have made two broad arguments about Snowden's revelations. One is that he's a traitor and criminal who damaged the national interest so that there's more chance now that The Terrorists will kill us all in our beds. The other is that his revelations are no big deal, nothing to see here, move along.

Riley's stenography promotes the second version. His cited sources include:

  • "current and former intelligence officials familiar with his role within the agency"
  • "a former senior official at the Department of Defense who, like other current and former intelligence employees cited in this article, asked not to be named talking about NSA operations"
  • "every intelligence official interviewed for this story"
  • "A former U.S. intelligence employee"
  • "A former senior intelligence official"
  • "a former NSA official"
  • "current and former intelligence officials"
  • "A person familiar with the TAO unit in Hawaii"

Riley does cite one from by name, from a conservative-leaning security think-tank, apparently speculating along the lines of Riley's various anonymous sources: "'I think he was overbilling by telling people he had access to the dark inner secrets,' says James Lewis, a fellow in cybersecurity at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 'He did what contractors do — he padded his résumé.'"

The core of this argument comes at the end:

The most secretive of the NSA’s programs is Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, an elite group of 200 hackers who break into foreign computer networks. They train for two years to qualify for the program, and their work generates some of the U.S. government's most valuable intelligence. Contractors don't get those jobs, current and former intelligence officials say.

Snowden has hinted he has more damaging information in his possession that he hasn’t released. His leaks gave foreign governments an idea of the breadth of the NSA’s data sweeps but didn’t reveal which networks it has tapped. TAO's activities were apparently among Snowden’s targets. He told the Guardian that he took the job in Hawaii so he could gain access to lists of computers the agency had hacked. There's no indication he got near that information. A person familiar with the TAO unit in Hawaii says no one within the tight-knit group of hackers had met or even heard of Snowden—until they saw his face on the news.
Apparently, according to Riley's parade of anonymous sources, those 200 hackers are the only ones in the NSA who knows anything worth knowing. Why all that other unimportant information is so highly classified is not a question Riley or his anonymous sources address.

But since there were all these people apparently talking about classified information without formal authorization, I'm sure the Pentagon and the Justice Department are eagerly seeking those sources so they can also be sent to prison for years or life. And, yes, I mean that ironically. Leakers who leak information on behalf of their agencies propaganda operations are normally not targeted for such actions. (It would be interesting to know if the government had ever officially disclosed that 200 hackers have all the good stuff in the world of NSA spying.)

I'm sure Riley's anonymous Administration sources would deny that it rises to the importance of the Good Stuff From The 200 Hackers, Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian just published new revelations about the massive NSA spying, XKeyscore: NSA tool collects 'nearly everything a user does on the internet' 07/31/2013:

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. ...

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA's "widest reaching" system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata. ...

Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a 'US person', though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.
But if it wasn't signed by every member of the League Of 200 Hackers, it can't be very important!

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