Jun 17, ’13 8:55 PM
Jun 15, ’13 4:55 PM
Jun 15, ’13 9:03 AM
The revelation of Prism this month by the Washington Post and Guardian newspapers has touched off the latest round in a decade-long debate over what limits to impose on government eavesdropping, which the Obama administration says is essential to keep the nation safe.
But interviews with more than a dozen current and former government and technology officials and outside experts show that, while Prism has attracted the recent attention, the program actually is a relatively small part of a much more expansive and intrusive eavesdropping effort.
Americans who disapprove of the government reading their emails have more to worry about from a different and larger NSA effort that snatches data as it passes through the fiber optic cables that make up the Internet’s backbone. That program, which has been known for years, copies Internet traffic as it enters and leaves the United States, then routes it to the NSA for analysis.
Whether by clever choice or coincidence, Prism appears to do what its name suggests. Like a triangular piece of glass, Prism takes large beams of data and helps the government find discrete, manageable strands of information.
Jun 14, ’13 7:37 PM
In my recent novel A Delicate Truth, a retired and patently decent British foreign servant accuses his old employers of being party to a Whitehall coverup, and for his pains is promptly threatened with the secret courts. Yet amid all the comment that my novel briefly provoked, this particular episode attracted no attention.
What are secret courts? Why do we need them? To protect Britain’s special relationship with the United States, we are officially told; to protect the credibility and integrity of our intelligence services. Never mind that for decades we have handled security-sensitive cases by clearing the court whenever necessary, and allowing our secret servants to withhold their names and testify from behind screens, real or virtual: now, all of a sudden, the credibility and integrity of our intelligence services are at stake, and need urgent and draconian protection.
Never mind the credibility and integrity of parliament and centuries of British justice: our spies come first. And remember, these aren’t criminal courts. These are civil courts where anyone attempting to obtain redress for a real or perceived injustice perpetrated against him by British or American secret agencies must have his claims heard and dealt with in secret.
Jun 14, ’13 7:18 PM
If we’ve learned anything in the past few days it’s that the NSA does precious little of its own spying, relying instead on companies like Palantir and Booz Allen Hamilton. Indeed, Palantir is just one of dozens – hundreds? – of Silicon Valley companies developing and operating the tools used by intelligence agencies like the NSA. If the dystopian drama that Arrington imagines ever actually plays out, it’ll likely do so using tools created by a private company located within a dozen miles of Palo Alto.
As the Financial Times’ April Dembosky reminds us, the relationship between the Valley and Homeland Security is nothing new. The Internet started out as a government project, designed to keep communication lines open in the event of a nuclear attack. In 1999 the CIA established In-Q-Tel, a venture capital fund to invest in technology companies that might be useful to the folks in Langley or Fort Meade.
A look at In-Q-Tel’s board of trustees shows how close the relationship between the geeks and the sneaks has become. The board is almost indistinguishable from that of a major Valley VC firm: Jim Barksdale former CEO and president of Netscape – sits next to Howard Cox of Greylock, sits next to Ted Schley of KPMG… sits across from David E. Jeremiah, the Chairman of Wackenhut Services Inc and A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard, Former Executive Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In-Q-Tel’s investment portfolio, at least on first glance, also seems remarkably similar to that of a regular Valley fund, with Web 2.0-y names like “illogic” and “Delphix” and “Connectify”. The only difference is that the companies on the list are all “focused on new and emerging commercial technologies that have the potential to give the CIA and broader U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) mission-advantage today and in the future.”
In-Q-Tel’s highest profile investment is Palantir – the data mining firm founded with additional money from Valley uber-Libertarian Peter Thiel – but In-Q-Tel’s entire portfolio includes over 100 companies, all reflecting the CIA’s current big obsessions: “big data”, video surveillance and encryption.
Jun 14, ’13 8:19 AM
I haven’t been able to write this week here because I’ve been participating in the debate over the fallout from last week’s NSA stories, and because we are very busy working on and writing the next series of stories that will begin appearing very shortly. I did, though, want to note a few points, and particularly highlight what Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez said after Congress on Wednesday was given a classified briefing by NSA officials on the agency’s previously secret surveillance activities:
“What we learned in there is significantly more than what is out in the media today. . . . I can’t speak to what we learned in there, and I don’t know if there are other leaks, if there’s more information somewhere, if somebody else is going to step up, but I will tell you that I believe it’s the tip of the iceberg . . . . I think it’s just broader than most people even realize, and I think that’s, in one way, what astounded most of us, too.”
The Congresswoman is absolutely right: what we have reported thus far is merely “the tip of the iceberg” of what the NSA is doing in spying on Americans and the world. She’s also right that when it comes to NSA spying, “there is significantly more than what is out in the media today”, and that’s exactly what we’re working to rectify.
Jun 13, ’13 10:44 AM
Harvard Business Review has dubbed the years between 1911 – when Frederick Winslow Taylor published his book The Principles of Scientific Management – and 2011 “The Management Century”. Taylor’s breakthrough was to see that production line productivity could be improved by using “scientific” methods of organisation.
The approach has been criticised for imposing a mechanistic regime on workers in the interests of pure efficiency, but it triggered more research into psychological and sociological ways to make manufacturing more productive.
Plenty of management techniques have helped to improve the ability of managers to fulfil their fundamental task. China-based car manufacturers, for example, are using the production line efficiency methods pioneered by Japan’s Toyota and others.
Jun 12, ’13 8:36 PM
Yet even as the insults pile up and the amateur psychoanalysis intensifies, keep in mind that Snowden’s leak has more in common with the standard Washington leak than should make the likes of Brooks, Simon and Cohen comfortable. Without defending Snowden for breaking his vow to safeguard secrets, he’s only done in the macro what the national security establishment does in the micro every day of the week to manage, manipulate and influence ongoing policy debates. Keeping the policy leak separate from the heretic leak is crucial to understanding how these stories play out in the press.
Secrets are sacrosanct in Washington until officials find political expediency in either declassifying them or leaking them selectively. It doesn’t really matter which modern presidential administration you decide to scrutinize for this behavior, as all of them are guilty. For instance, President George W. Bush’s administration declassified or leaked whole barrels of intelligence, raw and otherwise, to convince the public and Congress making war on Iraq was a good idea. Bush himself ordered  the release of classified prewar intelligence about Iraq through Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in July 2003.
Sometimes the index finger of government has no idea of what the thumb is up to. In 2007, Vice President Cheney went directly to Bush with his complaint  about what he considered to be a damaging national security leak in a column  by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. “Whoever is leaking information like this to the press is doing a real disservice, Mr. President,” Cheney said. Later, Bush’s national security adviser paid a visit to Cheney to explain that Bush, um, had authorized him to make the leak to Ignatius.
Jun 10, ’13 7:39 AM
I have been asked by my superiors to give a brief demonstration of the surprising effectiveness of even the simplest techniques of the new-fangled Social Networke Analysis in the pursuit of those who would seek to undermine the liberty enjoyed by His Majesty’s subjects. This is in connection with the discussion of the role of “metadata” in certain recent events and the assurances of various respectable parties that the government was merely “sifting through this so-called metadata” and that the “information acquired does not include the content of any communications”. I will show how we can use this “metadata” to find key persons involved in terrorist groups operating within the Colonies at the present time. I shall also endeavour to show how these methods work in what might be called a relational manner.
The analysis in this report is based on information gathered by our field agent Mr David Hackett Fischer and published in an Appendix to his lengthy report to the government. As you may be aware, Mr Fischer is an expert and respected field Agent with a broad and deep knowledge of the colonies. I, on the other hand, have made my way from Ireland with just a little quantitative training—I placed several hundred rungs below the Senior Wrangler during my time at Cambridge—and I am presently employed as a junior analytical scribe at ye olde National Security Administration. Sorry, I mean the Royal Security Administration. And I should emphasize again that I know nothing of current affairs in the colonies. However, our current Eighteenth Century beta of PRISM has been used to collect and analyze information on more than two hundred and sixty persons (of varying degrees of suspicion) belonging variously to seven different organizations in the Boston area.
Jun 8, ’13 3:42 PM