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NRT: The NSA spies on its own government

Written By: - Date published: 11:11 am, January 8th, 2014 - 51 comments
Categories: International, Spying, us politics - Tags: , ,

no-right-turn-256No Right Turn asks the question.

Since Edward Snowden leaked proof of widespread NSA spying on US citizens, people have been wondering who exactly they’re spying on. Are they spying on their own government? Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wanted to know, so he asked them directly. The response was not reassuring:

“Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other elected officials?”

That’s the question Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put to the National Security Agency’s chief in a bluntly worded letter Friday. It seems, however, that the agency cannot categorically say no.

Sanders didn’t use the word “spy” lightly. He was careful to define his terms, indicating he meant the collection of phone records from personal as well as official telephones, “content from Web sites visited or e-mails sent,” and data that companies collect but don’t release to the public.

When asked by The Washington Post, an NSA spokesman said that the agency’s privacy safeguards are effective at covering all Americans.

“Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,” the spokesman said.

Which means “none”. But think about this for a moment: Congress is meant to oversee the NSA, setting its budgets, regulating its powers, and holding its management accountable to the people. And the NSA is basically trawling them for blackmail material on their movements, relationships, and web-surfing habits. Even if they never use it (something we’ll never be able to prove), the potential is there. Which is a strong disincentive to effective oversight.

Or we can look at it another way: spies are supposed to protect their governments against enemies. The NSA clearly thinks Congress and by extension, elected representatives in general) are an enemy of the US.

Meanwhile, its worth asking: is this happening here? John Key has said that the GCSB is not engaged in the “wholesale” collection of metadata. But even if you believe him, there’s another problem: the NSA is using the data-exchange agreements that make global roaming work to
track everyone’s cellphones (which can reveal all sorts of interesting secrets). New Zealand data is almost certainly included, and almost certainly includes MPs. And it all goes into the same spy-cloud, to which the GCSB has access… Even if they’re not abusing it, their mere ability to access this data is a danger to our democracy. If MPs want to be safe from spying and spy-blackmail, they need to shut down the GCSB or sever its links to the American panopticon.

gcsb-scum

51 comments on “NRT: The NSA spies on its own government”

  1. karol 1

    This seems to be partly to do with the fact that 5 eyes, the NSA, etc have shifted their focus to strongly protecting commercial (corporate) interests and “economic” threats – and that could then be in conflict with elected representatives opposed to the corproate plutocracy.

  2. One Anonymous Knucklehead 2

    What it comes down to is this:

    How gutless are our MPs? Are they going to go along with this like good little authoritarians? Perhaps they could negotiate special privileges for themselves. The rights to privacy and freedom of speech and association, for example.

    Or are they going to grow a collective spine?

    PS: and if our parliament proves craven, a bought government, will the judiciary lie down too?

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 2.1

      PPS: now idly speculating on whether anyone has had a peek at Justice Winklemann’s illegally collected meta-data…and what she’d do if evidence of said collection were presented to her…ah well, a Knucklehead can dream.

  3. adam 3

    Spying has always been part of authoritarianism – they have done it since the dawn of time. The left should know, being spied on is common – hell we have case histories of it in this country. This is normal for them.

    Do I think it is wrong and kinda sick? – yeap. Do I think it is anti-democratic? Hell yes! So what do we do, be paranoid and freak out – or go out and keep doing what we do?

    I say keep doing what we do, and ignore the spies. Essentially, at the end of the day they have information which is dated, – yesterday. And if they going to use it – then they are the enemy and we know they are. And who cares – seriously – they are the ones with the problem – there wasting our money, and yes, we need to get to power – so it’s bye bye money for the spy freaks.

    So spy on you little authoritarian asses, masturbate at the same time if you must (yes I’m implying there is something patriarchal about this) . I’m right, your wrong. I’m a human being your a scum sucking freak.We will beat you in the end, and put all that data through the shredder.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      I’m sure you have already come across LOVEINT

    • Chooky 3.2

      @adam….Yes there have always been spies and spying but this time it is different….in Snowden’s words:

      “There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying … and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever … These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”[145]

      “I acted on my belief that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”[299]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

      This post raises the very serious question of who is in control of the NSA…because the elected USA govt does not seem to be…and this has very serious implications for the elected NZ govt and for New Zealanders living in a democracy

      • adam 3.2.1

        I don’t live under the illusion of living in a democracy Chooky. I think we live in a benign dictatorship with the illusions of power/a say.

        Yes Viper I have 🙂 I also spend time on right wing blogs, they are foaming at the mouth at the moment, especially the ones in the US. They can’t decide to tip their cap to there masters at these obvious intrusions to there lives, or be mighty upset – makes for fun reading – also creates a confused web footprint.

        On creating confusing foot prints – people are doing that right? Going to web sites you disagree with, extreme or otherwise. You don’t have to post or anything, just go – makes it harder for them to get a clear picture of who you are. Tea party web site is a good one – funny too – they are being attacked by traditional conservatives by being upset about this issue.

  4. Philj 4

    Xox
    WHAT does this mean for the legality of the undertaking of lawyers and doctors to safeguard our privacy?

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 4.1

      It means said privacy doesn’t exist, especially when (their clients) we find ourselves in positions of commercial sensitivity where export markets are involved.

    • Colonial Viper 4.2

      You have to understand that the literal goal of the Five Eyes system is to eliminate all human privacy, everywhere, all the time.

      If you use a smartphone, you are carrying a combination tracking device, human relationship monitor, and hot mic/hot camera which can turned on at any time without you knowing.

      From this, it should be easy to conclude what lawyers and doctors can do to maintain client confidentiality is very limited.

      HOWEVER, use of strong database, txt and email/IM encryption*, TOR for browsing*, simple precautions like fully shutting down and powering off computers when you are not using them and ensuring that people leave their mobile phones, tablets and notebooks at home when they go for meetings, are just some of the practical steps which make surveillance harder, slower and more costly to carry out.

      *This will get you noticed on any network analysis, but it is a type of civil peaceful resistance and if you were going to say it anyway, why not.

      • One Anonymous Knucklehead 4.2.1

        That’s the story from a political perspective. From an economic perspective it isn’t going to happen. Most engineering software, for example, requires an internet connection. Bye bye commercial sensitivity.

        • Colonial Viper 4.2.1.1

          Also, trying to “air gap” devices like PCs, tablets and notebooks by unplugging network cables and turning off the wi-fi can finally be defeated by the silent turning on of your devices wifi/wireless circuits.

        • Colonial Viper 4.2.1.2

          STUXNET

      • Tracey 4.2.2

        ” txt and email/IM encryption*, ” this requires those you communicate with to encrypt too?

        • Colonial Viper 4.2.2.1

          Often it means they have to use the same secure communication application as you e.g. OTR for instant messaging. Or the same encryption application eg Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).

          With PGP the way I understand it works is that you make a ‘public (encoding) key’ available to everyone. With it they can encrypt files which can then only be decrypted with the ‘private (decoding) key’ that only you have.

          Keith Ng for instance puts a pointer (finger print) to his ‘public key’ on his twitter account.

          btw I’m not really a tech guy, lprent and others will have much more idea than me…

          • One Anonymous Knucklehead 4.2.2.1.1

            GPG (Gnu Privacy Guard), open source and backed by strong German privacy legislation, is a safer option even than PGP.

  5. fender 5

    With the amount of information available through tracking cell phones highlighted by the reveal all sorts of interesting secrets link I wonder how long it will be until it’s illegal to not carry at all times a functioning tracking device (cell phone).

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Don’t need to go to such lengths. Consider banking: At one point it was possible to get by without a bank account, now it’s impossible (and that’s another reason why I think banking should be a public service instead of private).

      • fender 5.1.1

        True, only there’s not the same detail available by tracking bank accounts, unless we all make eft-pos transactions everywhere we go/visit.

        Authorities must love being able to follow people around and see who they mix with, I guess soon those without cell phones will be assumed to be up to no good.

        • Colonial Viper 5.1.1.1

          They can track many different dimensions of your activity via analysis tools called “graphs.” One graph might contain all your bank transactions. Another might contain all your card transactions. A third might contain all your mobile phone GPS readings. A fourth might contain lists of all your phone contacts, FB friends, etc. A fifth might contain all the electronic and text messages you send and receive.

          What they then do is layer all these graphs on top of each other on top of public information like google maps, etc. to understand in detail your entire day. They can then answer in detail: where did you go? Who else was there? Did you spend or receive money there? How long did you stay? Who did you communicate with at the time? Who communicated with you? And where were those people?

          If you are a person of interest and you then go to a town hall community meeting (say on the GCSB legislation), they can then identify all 2,000 other mobile phones which are in the same location, their relationship to you, and add those numbers to their target list. Using such a newly gained phone number as a “selector” they can they pull out all the graphs relevant to that phone number, and so on.

          • fender 5.1.1.1.1

            Very intrusive stuff even for law abiding citizens (like us) with ‘nothing to hide’.

            By the way, it’s good to have you “home”. 😀

  6. Chooky 6

    chookies don’t have cell phones….so that is why i have seen those ferrets lurking around

    • fender 6.1

      Glad to hear you keep your eyes on the job of ferret lookout, but are those ferrets finding chookies via leg ring tracking? 😉

  7. Chooky 7

    no leg rings!….but maybe they have the chook house rigged…where do you get those bug finding devices?

  8. Philj 8

    Xox
    Good to see you CV. I didn’t support the flamers. Your insight and persistence was too much for some. Take care and Kia Kaha

  9. burt 9

    Draco

    Don’t need to go to such lengths. Consider banking: At one point it was possible to get by without a bank account, now it’s impossible (and that’s another reason why I think banking should be a public service instead of private).

    Well having a state run banking system would save the government a lot if time legislating to be allowed access to commercial banking systems.

    Let me guess… The glorious government should have full access to its citisens financial transactions but government run spy agencies getting access to the same for government is bad – how’s that working for you ?

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 9.1

      Full access to citizens financial transactions?

      Is that what authoritarian gimps think of as governance or something? Why would anyone here vote for anything of the kind? Reality really is a bit much for you, isn’t it?

      • Colonial Viper 9.1.1

        The intel services (and the IRD) already have this.

        • One Anonymous Knucklehead 9.1.1.1

          Perhaps, but Burt is indulging a fantasy of a right wing government keeping tabs 24/7, not the IRD processing tax returns. The “intelligence” services are acting illegally.

  10. burt 10

    Knucklehead

    One of the basic issues of how government works seems to have escaped you. You might trust the party you blindly serve and that’s fine but you do know don’t you that your team aren’t perpetually in power to ensure the great powers they have are never abused.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 10.1

      What great powers? Be specific. I note recent surveillance has made the news because it is illegal.

      Your feeble misinterpretation of DtB’s remarks doesn’t mean shit, Burt, just like your ludicrous notion that I have blind faith in anything, let alone a political party.

      You failed (like a miserable failure) to argue coherently yesterday, preferring to sit in a corner and throw faeces. Are we going to see more of the same today? Or are you capable of conducting a rational discussion?

  11. burt 11

    Knucklehead

    Is it too much for you to grasp that in a parliament such as our half Westminster system the government of the day passes pretty much any law it wants. Hell some self serving governments have even used parliament in urgency to kill off a court case against a PM.

    Access to health records, banking transactions, cellphone meta data and message content are only ‘illegal’ if the government of the day don’t legislate to say its legal. Remember the biggest threat to democracy is a government arrogant enough to declare that the business of government is whatever government define it to be.

    • Access to health records, banking transactions, cellphone meta data and message content are only ‘illegal’ if the government of the day don’t legislate to say its legal.

      Not to mention, if the government of the day doesn’t legislate to retrospectively declare its previously-uncovered illegal activity legal – Labour and National both have form for this.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 11.2

      So, nothing specific, just false notions of my “grasp” of the situation, and vague bogeymen. This from a person who prefers the small government Pike River approach to work safety.

      • burt 11.2.1

        I bet you were glad when Pike River happened so you could stop using Cave Creek as your whacking stick to support big bureaucracy.

        FFS Knucklehead, this is the second time in 2 days I’ve seen you reference the size of government in terms of Pike River. How bloody insensitive of you.

        • One Anonymous Knucklehead 11.2.1.1

          The policies you support killed them. It’s that simple. Blood on your hands.

          PS: that would be a good job change for the “intelligence” services. Identifying the enemies of New Zealand who advocate for “small government” (ie: deaths at work) and destroying them.

          • Colonial Viper 11.2.1.1.1

            Court. Help take them to court (criminal or civil). Rule of valid, legitimate law is going to be very important going forward.

          • burt 11.2.1.1.2

            You are an idiot OAK

            See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pike_River_Mine

            Now tell me it’s the current governments cutbacks that created this situation. You might want to read the ‘Approvals history’ and ‘Mine operation’ paras.

            On 12 March 2004, Minister of Conservation Chris Carter approved the access arrangement for Pike River Coal Ltd. The arrangement included four 1.5-metre (4.9 ft)-wide emergency escape shafts within the boundaries of Paparoa National Park and a requirement for Pike River Coal Ltd to spend NZ$70,000 annually on conservation projects. Carter stated that the “safeguards and compensation” outweighed the inconsistencies with objectives of the Conservation Act 1987 and the relevant management plans.[8]

            • One Anonymous Knucklehead 11.2.1.1.2.1

              No, Burt, I am not criticising an individual government, I am criticising the policy of the “high trust model” – what you call “small government”. The policies that increase the child mortality rate, that destroy wealth – especially the value of work – that cause workplace “accidents”.

              How do you propose New Zealand should defend itself against this hateful, wilful incompetence?

              • Colonial Viper

                The alternative model with small government would be with worker owned, co-operative and democratically managed mines, and strong national based mining unions. Govt intervention and oversight could be fairly minimal in that case.

          • burt 11.2.1.1.3

            First they came for the supporters of small government.

            • Colonial Viper 11.2.1.1.3.1

              Who ironically seem to love massive expensive government surveillance apparatus and over-reach.

            • One Anonymous Knucklehead 11.2.1.1.3.2

              Oh get over yourself. The whole reason to have security or intelligence services – spies – in the first place is to help defend the nation. That means defending it against physical threats, obviously (and what a fine job they did when France committed an act of war on our soil.) but it also means defending our democracy, because while we have few physical threats, democracy is alive because strong arms keep it that way. Do you honestly believe that organised crime will not infiltrate the law-makers were it not for these rules of law and strong arms to enforce them?

              Perhaps you believe market fundamentalism presents no such threat, as the infectious disease admission rate climbs higher and higher, and forestry deaths continue apace.

              • burt

                Knucklehead

                How would you suggest dissenters of big government are ‘destroyed’ ?

                • One Anonymous Knucklehead

                  Burt, the alternative to “small government” isn’t “big government”, it’s just “government”.

                  I’d go after their ideology. Win the economic argument with cold hard facts. Implement stronger rules of evidence at a select committee level, initiate judicial review of evidence-free legislation, that sort of thing.

                  Once people stop paying attention to you, and you go back to just being a bunch of breathless Rand enthusiasts, I reckon the attention desert will take care of the rest.

  12. Clifford Pain 12

    Lesson 101: From George Orwell

    (taken from http://www.openculture.com/2014/01/george-orwell-explains-in-a-revealing-1944-letter-why-hed-write-1984.html )

    Asked by Noel Willmett “whether totalitarianism, leader-worship etc. are really on the up-grade” given “that they are not apparently growing in [England] and the USA”:

    George replied with consummate balance:

    ” I must say I believe, or fear, that taking the world as a whole these things are on the increase. Hitler, no doubt, will soon disappear, but only at the expense of strengthening (a) Stalin, (b) the Anglo-American millionaires and (c) all sorts of petty fuhrers of the type of de Gaulle. All the national movements everywhere, even those that originate in resistance to German domination, seem to take non-democratic forms, to group themselves round some superhuman fuhrer (Hitler, Stalin, Salazar, Franco, Gandhi, De Valera are all varying examples) and to adopt the theory that the end justifies the means. Everywhere the world movement seems to be in the direction of centralised economies which can be made to ‘work’ in an economic sense but which are not democratically organised and which tend to establish a caste system. With this go the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible fuhrer. Already history has in a sense ceased to exist, ie. there is no such thing as a history of our own times which could be universally accepted, and the exact sciences are endangered as soon as military necessity ceases to keep people up to the mark. Hitler can say that the Jews started the war, and if he survives that will become official history. He can’t say that two and two are five, because for the purposes of, say, ballistics they have to make four. But if the sort of world that I am afraid of arrives, a world of two or three great superstates which are unable to conquer one another, two and two could become five if the fuhrer wished it. That, so far as I can see, is the direction in which we are actually moving, though, of course, the process is reversible.

    As to the comparative immunity of Britain and the USA. Whatever the pacifists etc. may say, we have not gone totalitarian yet and this is a very hopeful symptom. I believe very deeply, as I explained in my book The Lion and the Unicorn, in the English people and in their capacity to centralise their economy without destroying freedom in doing so. But one must remember that Britain and the USA haven’t been really tried, they haven’t known defeat or severe suffering, and there are some bad symptoms to balance the good ones. To begin with there is the general indifference to the decay of democracy. Do you realise, for instance, that no one in England under 26 now has a vote and that so far as one can see the great mass of people of that age don’t give a damn for this? Secondly there is the fact that the intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side. Indeed the statement that we haven’t a Fascist movement in England largely means that the young, at this moment, look for their fuhrer elsewhere. One can’t be sure that that won’t change, nor can one be sure that the common people won’t think ten years hence as the intellectuals do now. I hope they won’t, I even trust they won’t, but if so it will be at the cost of a struggle. If one simply proclaims that all is for the best and doesn’t point to the sinister symptoms, one is merely helping to bring totalitarianism nearer.

    You also ask, if I think the world tendency is towards Fascism, why do I support the war. It is a choice of evils—I fancy nearly every war is that. I know enough of British imperialism not to like it, but I would support it against Nazism or Japanese imperialism, as the lesser evil. Similarly I would support the USSR against Germany because I think the USSR cannot altogether escape its past and retains enough of the original ideas of the Revolution to make it a more hopeful phenomenon than Nazi Germany. I think, and have thought ever since the war began, in 1936 or thereabouts, that our cause is the better, but we have to keep on making it the better, which involves constant criticism.

    Yours sincerely,
    Geo. Orwell”

    Goes to show, not much has changed in the human Zoo

  13. Chooky 13

    @ Clifford Pain….very interesting on Orwell thanks!

    I know this is completely frivolous but don’t you think Edward Snowden looks a bit like George Orwell?

    …..reincarnation anyone? ( smirk)

  14. Clifford Pain 14

    Chooky, yes Snowden does look at little like George Orwell (if you squint a bit). Consider this:

    GOLDILOCKs and the 5 Eyes – Its hard to get it just right:

    This quote for me is pivotal in the debate about the GCSB & NSA and their respective powers:

    “Hence it comes that all armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed” – Niccolò Machiavelli (substitute Orwells fuhrers or your favourite spy agency for prophets if need be).

    In his writings Orwell makes the point

    “But one must remember that Britain and the USA haven’t been really tried, they haven’t known defeat”

    Maybe, with expanding power of certain countries with their new technological warfare capabilities the time is coming when the USA & England Inc. will be sorely tried. The job of Government/Business will be increasingly to manage public opinion. One cannot have public discontent with a “caste system” (Orwell phrase). One must give the illusion all is well, the die is fair (i.e. united we stand). On the other hand countries will manipulate information in order to conquer (divided we fall). This is where the problem sits. The fog of information, who is telling the truth, what system gives the better deal, how can one be informed such that one can vote with ones feet?

    For the individual, when do you start to take action, if it appears that all other systems are worse, you will just shut up and obey, if it’s a case of into the firing pan out of the fire, you’ll just shut up and obey. Or more insipidly, we just don’t have time to consider the options because we are all, to some degree, working the economic handle for utopia (in reality most of the analysis is not really that hard). Maybe that’s the job of Government/Business to keep you in the washing machine of perpetual apathy, to maintain the status quo. NZ inc and its media outlets occasionally casts its eyes to alternative systems in countries like Sweden and Norway, however, they remain firmly fixed on the USA and UK style of economics. Sweden and Norway give us an alternative (biodiversity) upon which we can see how systems can be run differently. Will it be that even these are eroded (wiped from history) in order that status quo is maintained?

    If you look at statistics New Zealand, in the latest census, they call us the “Village”. It is not a pretty picture. We see a few muted attempts at physical protest, that are although do not appear to come from an analysis of such figures still show discontent. For example, a man in wellington set a car alight protesting the banking system. The way it was reported seemed dismissive of his concerns and further hit home the point, that the Panopticon is watching and you shall obey. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/6040675/Car-set-on-fire-in-Cuba-Mall-protest). Was this guy nuts, I doubt it. Was he just unable to articulate it and so went off in frustrated fury, I suspect so. Odly, in Cities around NZ when protests are conducted, the workers (business men, shop assistances, government workers etc) appear to ignore protestors of assets sales, as if they were somehow unclean.

    Coincidently the term “Village” was used in the series the Prisoner 2009. Some great dialogue here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4etGIGRqNk):
    No.2 “For people like 6, life is not enough, they want to escape”
    No. 6 “Where is the road out of here?”
    No.2 “ There is no out, there is only in”
    No. 2. If you truly want to go, you must find the open door rather than the beast that keeps you here.

    So the question remains for me is, does the surveillance system empower me or bind me (i.e. what’s the cost benefit in this multi dimensional process)? Can another ideology offer me a better deal? Under current commercial media programming how would I know? Why would I bother with a system that gives children a mediocre education (training kids to obey rather than think and only perform to their social status or function).

    New Zealand is supposedly one of the least corrupt countries in the world yet a cursory look will show anyone that soft corruption (i.e. cliques working on public boards) is alive and well.

    Is it simple a case of “The Strong Do What They Can, And The Weak Suffer What They Must”

    George Dyson article “NSA: THE DECISION PROBLEM” seems to present similar views as to Orwell

    “We are much, much deeper in a far more complicated matrix now. And now, more than ever, we should heed Eisenhower’s parting advice. Yes, we need big data, and big algorithms—but beware.”
    http://www.edge.org/conversation/nsa-the-decision-problem

    So just as Goldilocks wants her porridge to be just right, how do people want their surveillance system? One that is there for the good of the many, not just the few?

    No. 2, Time to wake up now, 6, I give you the village.

  15. Chooky 15

    Thanks again!….wow food for thought there…it will take a bit of time to read and digest it…

    I suspect many don’t want to think about the implications too much of what Snowden is talking about ….because it has such Orwellian implications, which were fine in Orwell’s books, but way scarier to contemplate as a reality in the present..

    However this is a very good forum for the sharing of information…and knowledge is power and forewarned is forearmed to some extent

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