Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Call for Information

In the course of my writing, I've come across two topics of interest that I'm looking to develop sources and information within: one is ORCA and the other is a commercial motivation at play for the NSA's surveillance apparatus, in particular any evidence that the NSA contractors administering NSA surveillance have engaged in the abuse of information from that surveillance for commercial purposes.

To that end, you may email me with any tips, documentation, or resources at [email protected]  

The Why in the Spy: Possible Motivations for PRISM

"Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a Federal judge to even the President if I had a personal e-mail."
 -Edward Snowden

There are many different motivations for a program as comprehensive as the recently revealed NSA surveillance program code-named PRISM.  However, the motivations are not nearly as obvious as one might think.  PRISM and other NSA programs, with their wide net for the communications of virtually any and all Americans, even those unsuspected of wrongdoing, simply have no national security use.  PRISM didn't stop the Boston bombing, and the claims of the Obama Administration that PRISM and other data mining helped to apprehend terrorists David Headley and Najibullah Zazi are being debunked.

Zazi was a would-be New York subway bomber who made contact with an email address in Pakistan. That email address had been uncovered by British authorities working traditional surveillance on a terror cell in northwest England, in an investigation codenamed Operation Pathway.  The British authorities passed the email on to U.S. authorities, who had not previously uncovered it despite President Bush's insistence that he had the authority to intercept communications between U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism and individuals living abroad.

Indeed, in the “Memorandum for William J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense Re: Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States” (March 14, 2003), the Bush Administration claimed the following:

“… our Office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations. See Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States at 25” (Oct 23, 2001).

In spite of the fact that the Bush Administration acknowledged no limit on surveilling the communications of people in the United States and individuals abroad, and the additional claim that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to domestic military operations, it was good old fashioned detective work by the British that broke Zazi's plot wide open.  The British managed to uncover the email address that would lead U.S. authorities to Zazi and uncover his intentions to bomb the New York subway.

As for David Headley, he was an informant for the DEA as late as 2005, and he was rumored to have worked in a similar capacity with the FBI and the CIA. Still, it was the British who uncovered his whereabouts when he contacted an informant.  It was not the vast surveillance apparatus of the NSA or any other U.S. government agency.

Indeed, the Patriot Act's expanded wiretapping and search powers were used just 15 times in terrorism cases between 2006 and 2009.  These facts, when taken together, beg the question: why is the United States government so insistent that expanded surveillance powers are necessary to fight terrorism, when the results clearly suggest that the expanded surveillance powers aren't working to interdict terrorist plots?  Here's a list of the terrorist plots that PRISM and other such government programs did not stop:

1. The Mumbai Bombings-a DEA informant rumored to have worked with the CIA and FBI managed to assist terrorists in a major act of terror.
2. The Boston Bombings-the terrorists succeeded despite being the types who needed to rob a 7-11 to fund their getaway, and the FBI interviewed one of the brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in advance of the bombings.
3. The New York Subway Bombing plot-the British pointed U.S. authorities in the right direction after their conventional surveillance uncovered a critical email.
4. The Underwear Bomber-were it not for the actions of passengers on the plane, the bomber might have succeeded in setting of his underwear bomb.
5.  The Fort Hood shootings-Major Nidal Hassan was in contact with Anwar al-Aulaqi, a known Al Qaeda firebrand and sympathizer, and the U.S. knew of Nassan's ties and did nothing.  The U.S. intercepted his emails to al-Aulaqi and left him in his post.

So, again, why is the United States government so insistent on keeping those surveillance powers, as is, even though the overwhelming evidence is that they don't work for their stated purpose of preventing terrorist attacks?  Moreover, when the powers aren't being used to prevent terrorist attacks, what are they being used to accomplish?

To understand the possible answer to this, we must consider the history of NSA spying. We begin with a Lockheed Martin employee named Margaret Newsham, who was stationed at the NSA's Menwith Hill listening post in Yorkshire, England.  Much like Edward Snowden, Newsham became aware of the NSA's illegal interceptions of U.S. communications. Unlike Edward Snowden, Newsham reported her findings to Congress during the first Bush Administration, and the committee held hearings during which Newsham gave testimony.  The committee concluded its investigation without issuing a report.

In a pattern that should seem familiar by this point, a British investigative reporter named Duncan Campbell came across the committee's papers and verified Newsham's claims.  Newsham claimed that the NSA was operating a program codenamed ECHELON, which intercepted, monitored, and analyzed civilian communications.  Popular Science covered the workings of Echelon in its January 1, 2001 issue:

“The electronic signals that Echelon satellites and listening posts capture are separated into two streams, depending upon whether the communications are sent with or without encryption. Scrambled signals are converted into their original language, and then, along with selected “clear” messages, are checked by a piece of software called Dictionary. There are actually several localized “dictionaries.” The UK version, for example, is packed with names and slang used by the Irish Republican Army. Messages with trigger words are dispatched to their respective agencies.”
ECHELON was in existence in the Seventies, and its capabilities were used by various presidents from that time on to the present.  Indeed, the capabilities were only evolved, enhanced, and refined to keep pace with changing technology, regardless of the Fourth Amendment's limitations on search and seizure without probable cause.  It didn't matter what the communication was, or if the person or persons involved in the communication were suspected of any wrongdoing: ECHELON seized it all.

The outcry over the past week's worth of revelations must seem amusing to those within the NSA who are aware of the past four decades worth of spying that went beyond PRISM.  PRISM at least involved a warrant by a court.  ECHELON did not, nor was there ever any effort to ensure that its interceptions of communications complied with the Fourth Amendment.

The purpose of ECHELON was not strictly limited to the detection of conversations involving keywords. Indeed, Newsham claimed that she heard intercepted phone calls from Senator Strom Thurmond, while former Maryland Congressman Michael Barnes became aware that the NSA was intercepting his phone calls with the White House when reporters brought to his attention transcripts of his phone calls with the White House that they had in their possession.  Because ECHELON is operated with four other intelligence agencies in various countries, such as the General Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom, those foreign intelligence agencies became aware of ECHELON targeting on groups like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and various religious groups.

Indeed, ECHELON became a powerful tool to assist American contractors and corporations in business, as the Office of Intelligence Liaison was formed within the Department of Commerce to forward ECHELON-intercepted communications to U.S. companies. This government espionage became the basis of various controversies, including a $1.4 billion deal Raytheon secured to supply a radar system to Brazil, in which NSA espionage allegedly helped Raytheon beat out French competitor Thomson-CSF.

ECHELON and PRISM, and any other expanded wiretapping or surveillance programs under the Patriot Act and subsequent executive orders, are not likely directed at purely civilian communications.  Imagine the economic implications of knowing what a Senator is thinking about his upcoming vote on an appropriations bill, or knowing about his affairs.  Imagine what kind of coercion becomes possible, because as Edward Snowden recounted in his interview with the Guardian, the U.S. wasn't above getting a Swiss banker drunk in order to secure his cooperation with a mutually beneficial arrangement after he was arrested for a DUI.

Instead of the Senator casting his vote according to his conscience, or his desire to represent his constituents, he votes according to his wish to keep certain facts quiet.  The very contractors like Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton whose employees can access these communications at will also come before Congress for billions of dollars in contracts.  They come before the Pentagon, and they are in a position to know what generals and procurement officials are thinking beforehand, and they are also in a position to gather information that can be used to persuade those who are inclined to disfavor the position of a contractor.

Instead of representing you as a constituent, or the actual interests of the country, your elected officials find themselves faced with a contractor who has their most intimate secrets in hand.  The same is true of government officials. These programs, with their unlimited surveillance powers, are worth billions to the companies that administer them.  The information they glean from people with power and influence can conceivably be used to persuade those people to agree to billions in purchases, or to remove individuals from their positions in order to eliminate obstacles.

This isn't about your ordinary little conversations with other ordinary little people. It's about people with influence, because they have the ability to determine the no-bid, cost-plus status of a government contract.  It's about knowing whether or not Greenpeace is going to show up at the site of a missile test, or whether or not Amnesty International has knowledge of torture or enhanced interrogation techniques that qualify as human rights violations. Virtually every communication one of these organizations engages in is electronic, and the Justice Department or any other private corporation could use these programs for insight into legal strategies where future court cases are concerned.

That's the why in the spy, and the most likely possible motive for a program like PRISM and its predecessors.  As a taxpayer, and as a citizen, that's why you should be concerned.  It's your money, and it's your government.  38% of the 1.2 million Americans with top-secret clearances are contractors.

It is likely no accident that Edward Snowden referenced a federal judge, or an elected official as powerful as the president.  We already know from prior reporting and the revelations of previous whistleblowers that the communications of elected officials are being intercepted and have been intercepted for at least two decades.  Envision recent events, like the scandal that brought down General David Petraeus or unexpected judicial decisions, in this context, and the implications are chilling.

PRISM isn't about totalitarianism, just as totalitarianism isn't about power for power's sake: it's about money, and if you have information, you can vastly increase your ability to accumulate even more money.  You can get rid of obstacles to your cash flow, or your business's bottom line.  That's the why in the spy, if you're looking for an honest and likely motivation behind PRISM.