I've been stunned as I've watched this story unfold. Stunned many so called "liberals" don't seem to have a problem with it. Stunned that Glenn Beck is actually saying things I agree with. But most stunned cause it seems there is a total lack of understanding about this whole story from our media.
First off I will say what I often say here when I talk about technology. I am a huge tech geek. Heck I am the dude that uses the data Facebook and Google gathers to serve you ads for my clients. Yes I am that guy. I also worked with many of the companies I am sure are providing the hardware being used by the NSA. More on that later, but I just wanted to throw that out there.
The first thing I don't understand is this story isn't anything new. This story was reported back in 2006 by Wired when an employee at an AT&T data center (San Francisco), Mark Klein, leaked plans, blueprints, and photos noting that the NSA was splicing every fiber wire running into the place and running it through their computers in a secret room on site. Room 641A.
According to a statement released by Klein's attorney, an NSA agent showed up at the San Francisco switching center in 2002 to interview a management-level technician for a special job. In January 2003, Klein observed a new room being built adjacent to the room housing AT&T's #4ESS switching equipment [.....]I don't want to get too "geeky" here, but the NSA was taking everything and running it through their switches and computers in that "secret" room. If you have a coaxial cable coming into your house for cable or satellite TV, and you get one of those splitters, plug the line in from outside and spilt it, well that was what they were doing on a scale a few millions times higher.
"I learned that the person whom the NSA interviewed for the secret job was the person working to install equipment in this room," Klein wrote. "The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room."
Klein's job eventually included connecting internet circuits to a splitting cabinet that led to the secret room. During the course of that work, he learned from a co-worker that similar cabinets were being installed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.
"While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet (AT&T's internet service) circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal," Klein wrote.
The split circuits included traffic from peering links connecting to other internet backbone providers, meaning that AT&T was also diverting traffic routed from its network to or from other domestic and international providers, according to Klein's statement.
Klein was going to be a witness for EFF'S lawsuit, and I think it is safe to say this was when Congress passed immunity for all telecom companies.
So with that background in mind follow me below the fold for a little conversation on where other people are getting this story so wrong.
Google & Facebook Can't Arrest Me
As a media watcher and political junkie I knew this story would go in several directions. The first was to attack the "messenger." Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. That happened and is happening. I figured the second thing would be people saying, "well Google and Facebook already gather all this information, what is the big deal if the government is looking at and/or gathering it?"
Well as some talking heads I see on MSNBC have started to note Google can't investegate or arrest you. That is no small thing but those talking heads don't connect the dots.
Take Thomas Drake. He was a former NSA employee that, well read for yourself:
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the NSA required new tools to collect intelligence from the growing flood of information pouring out of the new digital networks like the internet. Drake became involved in the internal NSA debate between two of these tools, the Trailblazer Project and the ThinThread project. He became part of the "minority" that favored ThinThread for several reasons, including its theoretical ability to protect privacy while gathering intelligence. Trailblazer, on the other hand, not only violated privacy, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and other laws and regulations, it also required billions of dollars, dwarfing the cost of ThinThread. Drake eventually became "disillusioned, then indignant" regarding the problems he saw at the agency. Circa 2000 NSA head Michael Hayden chose Trailblazer over ThinThread; ThinThread was cancelled and Trailblazer ramped up, eventually employing IBM, SAIC, Boeing, CSC, and others.He went to the head staffer, a Republican, of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to try and "blow the whistle" on this and couldn't get anywhere. He even filed a report with the DoD Inspector General. He tried to follow the rules. He eventually leaked the information to Jane Mayer and a New Yorker article was written.
I think it is safe to say the government destroyed his career if not his life.
When the government gets pissed off at you they can do more then just put you in jail.
The "Small World Experiment"
Now just a little sidebar story on why it worries me how the NSA is collecting and using the phone META data from at least Verizon (my provider BTW) if not every other carrier. I bet most folks here have heard of the pop culture game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The concept of that game is actually based on an academic study done in 1967 by psychologist Stanley Milgram.
It was called his "Small World Experiment" and it is actually amazing. Here is what he did:
The six degrees of separation concept originates from Milgram's "small world experiment" in 1967 that tracked chains of acquaintances in the United States. In the experiment, Milgram sent several packages to 160 random people living in Omaha, Nebraska, asking them to forward the package to a friend or acquaintance who they thought would bring the package closer to a set final individual, a stockbroker from Boston, Massachusetts. Each "starter" received instructions to mail a folder via the U.S. Post Office to a recipient, but with some rules. Starters could only mail the folder to someone they actually knew personally on a first-name basis. When doing so, each starter instructed their recipient to mail the folder ahead to one of the latter's first-name acquaintances with the same instructions, with the hope that their acquaintance might by some chance know the target recipient.Counting the first person he mailed it to, it only took on average six people, or Six Degrees of separation to get the package to the stockbroker. Facebook just did a test like this and found it was now 4.74.
So I am willing to bet I am within six degrees of a terrible criminal if not a terrorist. But I can ASSURE YOU I KNOW NO TERRORIST OR WOULD BE TERRORIST. When you start to look at data in this manner, connecting who a suspected terrorist is talking to and going backwards, down the line a few people, no telling where it will end. It is guilt not by association, but randomness .....
And it is my experience, see Drake, that when the government sets its sights on you, there isn't much you can do to stop them.
Can NSA Handle All The Data?
Disclaimer: Everything I am about to mention here is already in the "public" domain. And to be honest I didn't have a security clearance, so much of what happened in my client's headquarters I couldn't even see. Heck the info is about a decade old. But I think this little story might shine some light on this topic.
In another time in my life I was a business/marketing consultant for some of the world's largest telecom and data security firms. I worked for the divisions that sold products to the DoD. It stuns me MSNBC can't seem to find somebody to talk about the technical aspects of this all. I know how this technology works at more than a basic level, and if more folks did what we are learning would freak you out a lot more. I keep hearing people say it is so much information, what can they do with it, well a heck of a lot.
Two of my clients, Lucent and Unisys were bidding on a billion dollar DoD contract. We went to their test facility to see them demo two products.
The Lucent product at the time only had a "code" name. Wavelength. It was a data switch, about the size of a fridge, that used the electromagnetic spectrum to transmit computer data, which is just 1s and 0s. I don't recall the specs, but a General asked what it could do, and the Lucent data guy said handle ALL the phone and data traffic for the city of New York .... if you want to pay tens of millions.
Next up was the Unisys server. It was their ES7000 Enterprise Server (which is like anciet now). About the size of a fridge as well. We never got the exact specs on it as well, cause you can expand the thing out as far as you want. But it was a beast. If you set your laptop computer on your lap you've noticed it can get hot. This thing ran so fast it was cooled with liquid nitrogen.
Now this is what a current data center looks like.
The NSA is building a multi-billion dollar one of these in Utah. More than 100,000 square feet of servers, switches, and gosh know what else. Don't believe me they can handle the flow of info, well how about this:
William Binney, a mathematician who worked at the NSA for almost 40 years and helped automate its worldwide eavesdropping, said Utah's computers could store data at the rate of 20 terabytes – the equivalent of the Library of Congress – per minute. "Technically it's not that complicated. You just need to work out an indexing scheme to order it."It is really just how much brutal force do they want to use. Row after row, rack after rack of these servers and switches and you can process as much information as you want.
When you hear a reporter, talking head on MSNBC, who doesn't now a fiber cable from CAT5, don't listen to them. They now not what they talk about. And that pisses me off cause I have like ten people on speed dial that could fill them in.