Tinker Tailor Soldier NSA


Forbidden City, China

Forbidden City, China

DSI White Paper, by Richard L. Wottrich, CEO & Senior Consultant, International Services 

January 3, 2016, Chicago USA 

“It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results.” Sun TZU

Humans are inherently suspicious, competitive and argue over precious resources – ergo spying. Put three unrelated people in a room and you will eventually have two spying on the third. Espionage and intelligence gathering have been around since humans started organizing into distinct tribes, communities, states, nations, and civilizations.

The Hittites and Israelites spied on each other. The Greeks had their Trojan Horse. The Middle East had its Assassins, the Japanese had their Ninjas and America had their Navajos. In the 1500s it was the rise of the modern nation-state that led to intelligence gathering becoming an essential function of government. Governments are inherently suspicious, competitive and argue over precious resources.

This was well established by the time of America’s own Revolutionary War, prompting our Founding Fathers to incorporate protections from spying on its own citizens in the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or Affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Note that this amendment speaks to the people’s right to be “secure,” which is usually referred to as the “right to privacy.” It is perfectly all right for the U.S. government to spy on other countries, as it has continuously since inception – as all governments of means do.

For example, as James Bamford wrote in his book, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, President “Roosevelt fought hard for the United States to host the opening session [of the United Nations]; it seemed a magnanimous gesture to most of the delegates. But the real reason was to better enable the United States to eavesdrop on its guests. Coded messages between the foreign delegations and their distant capitals passed through U.S. telegraph lines in San Francisco. With wartime censorship laws still in effect, Western Union and the other commercial telegraph companies were required to pass on both coded and uncoded telegrams to U.S. Army codebreakers.”

If spying is endemic in human affairs then why the fuss? Why is the National Security Agency (NSA) (also known in official government documents as the “President’s Surveillance Program”), PRISM clandestine national security electronic surveillance program (also known as SIGAD US-984XN) causing such consternation in America and around the globe?

Spying is not the issue. As Sun TZU, the Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher from the Zhou Dynasty, famously said, the issue is “the enlightened ruler and the wise general.” The issue is, “Do we trust those who are spying?”

But “do we trust those who are spying” is only half a sentence. The entire sentence is, “Do we trust those who are spying to do what is right for us?” Hence we have the specter of the U.S. government angry about China’s pervasive clandestine electronic surveillance “stealing” of American military and industrial secrets, and then are asked to accept NSA internal surveillance of American citizens as a reasonable “trade off” of freedom for security. That these two positions are uttered “in the same breath” by our “enlightened rulers” might give one pause. Just exactly whose interests are being served? Is this just our government serving its own interests?

Distilling further, trust is the issue. Trust is engendered by transparency of actions and motives. But governments behave in preciously the opposite way. To convict a spy, you need to prove that a crime was actually committed, and then prove that it was committed by the accused. The first thing a government does therefore, is to make all such information “secret” and then make the unauthorized release of such information “illegal.”

The NSA PRISM program was set up by President George W. Bush shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and it has been vastly expanded under President Barack H. Obama. The U.S. Government President’s Surveillance Program is officially classified (secret), but a tremendous amount of information has been released by various whistleblowers (Edward Snowden), testified to by government officials during Congressional hearings and in public statements, and reported on in investigations by news organizations. Hence this blog.

The next step governments take is to make their spying “legal.” This is usually done in secret. NSA petitions a special secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC); a group of judges responsible for making decisions about government surveillance in national-security cases. NSA appears in front of FISC to get “permission” to spy. We know that NSA has continuously broadened the definition of what it can spy on by vast expansions of the definition of what is “relevant.” It has been reported that FISC has never turned down a NSA request.

Hence a secret court decides that “relevant” allows NSA to gather phone data on millions of Americans, and to peruse entire databases of records on millions of people, in contrast to a more conservative interpretation widely applied in criminal cases, in which only some of those records would likely be allowed. This is explained away in technical jargon surrounding IT and Big Data; inferring that this is somehow very impersonal. It is personal. It is spying.

Such actions do not engender trust. Then perhaps we must trust that our rulers are enlightened. One measure might be how pervasive such spying has become, or perhaps the resources devoted to spying by our enlightened rulers.

When it was disclosed that NSA (via the Department of Justice) had secretly collected two months of telephone records from reporters and editors at the Associated Press (AP), President Gary Pruitt said that the subpoenas were a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its reporting. Pruitt went on to say that, “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the news-gathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

The U.S. government does this via a unique and massive resource; The Utah Data Center (UDC), also known as the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) Data Center. This is and will be the primary data storage facility for the U.S. Intelligence Community; capable of storing data on the scale of yottabytes (1 yottabyte = 1 trillion terabytes, or 1 quadrillion gigabytes). UDC’s purpose is to support the CNCI, but beyond that opaque sophistry its precise mission is secret.

According to a James Bamford’s Wired magazine article “The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” in 2012, UDC supposedly can capture “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Internet searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter’.” And it is of course capturing this blog, as well as the time and place that you read it.

This is Big Data writ large. If they build it, they will use it. This would seem to be exactly the same actions that our government accuses the Chinese government of doing.

According to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the federal government is legally prohibited from collecting, storing, analyzing, or disseminating the content of the communications of U.S. citizens, whether inside or outside of the country, unless authorized by an individual warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This appears to have not been the case in the recent Justice Department expropriation of AP’s phone records – no warrant was offered to AP – no warning was given to AP. It was done in secret behind closed doors.

Less you think this small beer – the UDC headquarters is over 1 million square feet and cost over $2 billion. Telecommunications equipment, computers and software cost another $2 billion. The NSA spy center has a power demand of 65 megawatts, costing about $40 million per year – enough to power 65,000 average homes.

Hence the NSA PRISM Program is secret and it is illegal to release information regarding its functions. A secret court decides what it can do and its decisions are secret as well. Our enlightened rulers are putting massive taxpayer money and resources behind Prism, facilitating UDC’s ability to spy on anything and everyone in the world. And we are asked to trust that their intentions are enlightened and in our best interests.

Malte Spitz, a member of the German Green Party’s executive committee and a political candidate for the Bundestag, wrote an interesting opinion on this subject in The New York Times in 2013. Spitz said that, “Given our history, we’re not willing to trade in liberty for potentially better security.”

Germans are all too familiar with government programs that spy on citizens. Nazi Germany had thousands informants working through the infamous Gestapo. Communist East Germany had neighbors informing on neighbors via the feared Stasi. Phones were tapped. Millions were monitored. It was secret and legal.

But Germany is a stable democracy today, as is the U.S. Surely we can trust our enlightened rulers to do what is in our best interests? I would refer to President Ronald Reagan’s famous quote regarding the INF Treaty, signed by President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev at a Washington Summit on December 8, 1987. “Trust, but verify.”

As of last month the controversial government surveillance program that gathered metadata via the big phone companies has come to an end. The NSA has stopped the bulk collection of the metadata from Americans’ phone calls. The NSA can keep metadata already collected until Feb. 29, 2016, and your phone data will continue to be collected by telecom companies.

However the PRISM program, which was also revealed by the Snowden documents and collects a vast amount of Internet data, continues to operate. PRISM allows the NSA and FBI to tap into the servers of leading U.S. Internet service providers. But frankly there really is no way that ordinary citizens can verify what the NSA does. We must ‘trust’ our government to be enlightened.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Richard Wottrich, Blog Author – Richard.Wottrich@dsiglobalview.com