Senate Why do we complain about the NSA

Discussion in 'Community' started by beezel26, Jan 29, 2014.

  1. beezel26 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2003
    star 7
    Not really, we spy on everyone including our friends. That is why patriots are bad. They won't have the stomach to do the things that loyalists do for the company and for our country. Make no bones about it, its a necessary evil. Something idealists can stomach. Remember patriotism is an ideal.
  2. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    I agree that on-forwarding criminal data, which was outside their mandate is questionable and would call for an expanded mandate if there's deemed to be sufficient value in the end ELINT and SIGINT. However, I would caution against assuming you have the full picture. The simplest phrasing is "we don't know, what we don't know". It's reasonable to assume the national security adviser, President, and key Senate Committee members, have insight into the full scope of NSA surveillance and that what's publicly disseminated is not the full extent of the information. Why? Simply because it would be crazy to compromise any strategic or tactical advantage that information yields. If you have penetrated a communications network for al-Qaeda affiliates, the last thing you want to do is tip off those affiliates that you can read their emails and text messages.
  3. Espaldapalabras Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 25, 2005
    star 5
    Still haven't learned to bother editing myself before hitting post.

    Funny how the "realists" have to rely so heavily on secret knowledge to make their case.

    And to me the debate is between statists and libertarians. As a former die hard statist who thought we should declare war on Assange to a Snowden fanboy, technology has simply moved far faster than effective political theories. I think you'll have a hard time convincing the civilian populations of nominal allies that our programs are serving them, even their elites are not buying it. It is hard to make out Brazil and Germany as anything but economic rivals, so when our hand is caught in their cookie jar if they had a valid excuse they would have used it. Sure they are naughty children themselves who wish they were tall enough for our cookie jars, but that is hardly an excuse.

    I agree we need effective intelligence. A system that will never be accountable to the public in any meaningful form is not effective. Snowden didn't cause the NSA's problems. The NSA caused those problems by bureaucratic overreach.
  4. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    Well, sadly, international politics only has one paradigm and I'll give you a hint - Hans W Morgenthau.

    Liberalism, Marxism, etc simply does not have a seat at that table.

    And if you think that countries who were outraged about US spying allegations need convincing of the benefit of programs or were actually outraged... then allow me to laugh at you in a condescending fashion. German outrage was a necessary reaction to the public outing of the spying. Not that the spying occurred. Jesus H Christ, do you really think the Germans don't have intelligence records on US leaders? I'll tell you a dirty secret - every time German diplomats met senior US leaders on US soil, the First Secretary (Politics) would absolutely cable a top secret REFTEL back to BDN and BfV.

    Hell, if the UK ambassador sat down with Mr Obama for a meeting, or even Mr Biden, I guarantee you he sends one normal REFTEL to the Home Office, Foreign Office, Downing St etc and one across their secure networks to Five and Six.

    Every. nation. spies. on. each. other.

    If you think the US was being bad by spying on allies, and it was wrong, then please don't get ever get into international affairs. I did and it bled the idealism out of me quickly.

    Oh, and if you want to know how I know that intelligence agencies collect data on friends and enemies? Well, see, I would guess because I had to cable back on my meetings with US officials to our secret squirrels. That would, to me, be a clear indicator.
    Last edited by Ender Sai, Feb 5, 2014
  5. Rogue_Follower Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 12, 2003
    star 6
    There's a fairly substantial difference difference between what you are describing (routine intelligence reports created manually on an ad hoc basis) and what the NSA is doing (persistent, automated data capture on a global scale). I'm not sure anyone objects to ambassadors and other officials gathering intelligence in the way you describe, so that feels like a bit of a strawman.

    Even limiting the discussion to the espionage specifically targeted at the German Chancellor and other foreign officials, I doubt that the situation is as symmetrical as you imply. I have no doubt Germany, and every other country, would love to do do what the NSA and GCHQ are doing, but I question whether they can actually pull it off. Nations do spy on each other, but not every nation gets equal results from said spying, and that's partially what the Germans, Brazilians, et al. are upset about. They dislike that the US and its partners have capabilities that give them an advantage.

    Unless you would suggest that the Germans have extensive call logs for President Obama's cell phone, which seems doubtful. If they do, then the NSA isn't doing their job right---they're in charge of encryption too, after all. :p
  6. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    Sure, but they're not idiots. They know damn well the US has that kind of access.
  7. Espaldapalabras Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 25, 2005
    star 5
    I meant to say even IF their elites are not buying it. I understand all nations spy on each other. But in the past this was just spying on people who were in power or who mattered. It just wasn't possible to have eyes on every person on the planet, so what governments did to each other was inherently limited. And perhaps if the US security services has implemented effective controls so that they really were only spying on foreign nationals, then we could take Snowden to task for revealing our hand when everyone else has their own cards hidden. But the issue is this game of international poker spies play on each other has reached the point where it is entirely possible the tail is wagging the dog.

    What good is the best security service in the world if it is so powerful it has taken over the supposedly democratic government meant to control it? Why should I care that it is the NSA spying on me instead of the KGB? If neither is serving the general public and instead is suppressing civilian unrest for oligarchs, should I as a civilian care whether they are on Wall Street or the Kremlin?

    I get that in the big bad world it is a wolf eat wolf world. But the status quo is not acceptable and the institutional interests are not interested in meaningful reform that would return the control to the general population. Our security services may be the biggest baddest wolf on the street, but we find out they are eating our sheep as well and we are all just supposed to be glad it wasn't someone else doing it. They certainly won't collar themselves.

    If secret control systems were effective, then the Church committee reforms would have worked. Instead under the cover of secrecy they became a rubber stamp and the regulators were captured by industry. If there are real reasons to preserve the programs rather than the made up ones they've been trying to feed us, time to come out with those. Sure it might hurt whatever program it is they are running, but then they can turn around and tell us they told us so and they'd win the debate forever.
  8. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    I think it's hard for me to respond because your concerns are vague and a bit nebulous. In that in practical terms, the NSA is not spying on you any more than you being caught on CCTV footage in New York or London means the intelligence apparatus has a dossier on you.

    For the sake of clarity, I won't talk about Australia's agencies because the most relevant one are proxies for the more famous British ones, MI5 (the security service), and MI6 (the secret intelligence service or SIS).

    There's not really a US proxy for the service MI5 provides. To an extent, the FBI assumes an element of their role but not all of it, and the FBI has duties beyond this so it's not really an appropriate comparison.

    On paper, an oversimplification is to state that the purpose of the security service is to spy on its own citizens. The KGB and Stasi's directorates for internal security certainly fostered this image, but in the West, it's inaccurate.

    I need you to envision a scenario for me.

    You have kids who go to a local school. Your kids become friends with the kids of a Pakistani Muslim, who seems like an affable chap. You decide to invite him and his wife over for dinner so you can get to know another parent from the neighborhood who your kid is friends with.

    He seems nice enough and everything. No issues there. However, he is being investigated by the security service because his accountancy firm may have laundered funds in breach of international AML-CTF provisions. Upon seeing that you have spoken with him,and had him over, the security service surveils you. They investigate to see if you're a person of interest to the investigation or not.

    Now, you have done nothing wrong so you end up as a footnote in a wider file. But they did a background check on you, interviewed neighbors or colleagues, and looked to see if you'd been affiliated with any organisation that could be tied back to terrorism.

    Assuming this scenario, can you tell me:

    1) Do you feel the investigation into your background was fair?
    2) Do you feel the investigation into your background was warranted?
    3) Do you see a scenario in which the service could have carried out its operation without ruling you out as a person of interest?
  9. Espaldapalabras Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 25, 2005
    star 5

    While it may certainly be more efficient to have one security service make unilateral decisions for just this type of case, is any investigation fair if an agent of the state decides it must be so? Do they have the sole power to determine what is and is not warranted? If instead of inviting them over for dinner, I talk to him on the phone during my job. So while I certainly can see plenty of fair, warranted, and needed investigations, there must be some type of real controls on those police powers. There is no crime that warrants the removal of civil rights. Terrorism, money laundering, spying, all of these potential harms are less than the harm caused by unaccountable state power.

    When I walk through a scanner that sends images of my naked body to a bored TSA employee to possibly laugh at, is this a serious concern for my ability to express political views or travel? Maybe not but it is still a violation of my fundamental rights enshrined in the US Constitution's 4th amendment. I don't think I should need to be able to specify specific concerns when it comes to intrusion of my rights without real meaningful review by courts and elected leaders. I simply can't know all the ways those powers once given can or will be abused. If I meet a girl in a bar who happens to work at the NSA server, are there effective controls to prevent her from capricious use of her investigative power? Records management policies at a police department as well as police powers to get information about me are limited. Here in the US we aren't comfortable with the idea of total surveillance by CCTV. I think it is important to think about what a world with total lack of privacy for any private citizen means when all government actions are private. If privacy is an outdated concept, then lack of it should be as good for the government goose as it is for the private gander. I bet you can come up with all sorts of reasons for state secrecy. Citizens deserve secrecy unless the state can prove some legitimate state interest in a public forum for denying it.
  10. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    That was indeed, a most verbose and dexterous way to dodge the question I was asking. My congratulations in that regard, I suppose.
  11. dp4m Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Nov 8, 2001
    star 10
  12. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
  13. slightly_unhinged Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jan 28, 2014
    star 4
    There is such limited human resource in intel agencies that I don't see much cause for concern. I'm sure many of us are subject to cursory checks at some point. I was briefly involved in student politics at Cambridge and have travelled in the middle east so I daresay there's a dusty old file on me somewhere, probably filed under 'harmless loudmouth'.

    I have no insider knowledge but I find it telling that we have managed to prevent plots organised by IS members while the plot by lone wolves Adebolajo and Adebowale (who hacked soldier Lee Rigby to death in London) slipped through the net. Adebolajo was certainly under some surveillance, having been picked up by MI6 in Kenya suspected of involvement with al Shebaab militants, but not surveilled closely enough to pick up on his plan. Clearly triage takes place and resource is granted only to the most credible threats.

    I'm being long-winded here but the point is that there is not enough resource to snoop on you. Something you write or some association you have may warrant a fleeting glimpse at your digital footprint but that's as bad as it's going to get if you're not involved in terrorism, politics or investigative journalism.

    The thing I worry about is not powers used by GCHQ or MI5/6 but the increasing powers we're giving to the police, the majority of whom are simple thugs.
  14. slightly_unhinged Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jan 28, 2014
    star 4
    The OP doesn't really warrant a response but companies like google simply have algorithms trawling through your email and other data to target advertising. It's not people, just code.

    Amazon is particularly crude in this regard. After I bought a second hand copy of the now out of print 'real frank zappa book' they were absolutely determined to try to sell me dog cages for months afterwards. I don't own a dog but I guess a Zappa fan somewhere runs a dog sanctuary or some such.
  15. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    Forgive me for not taking seriously the word of a man who, as far as I can tell, has never seen any material classified at Protected or higher. :)
  16. Rogue_Follower Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 12, 2003
    star 6
    In other NSA news, the NSA released some partially-redacted reports about instances where the agency had potentially broken US law. This was released late Christmas eve, as clever intelligence agencies are known to do. Only a few news outlets picked up on it, such as this rundown from Bloomberg. From what I've seen, nothing too revelatory, mostly stuff we'd already learned from the Snowden leaks (NSA employees spying on their spouses, mistakes, etc.)

    Some other interesting surveillance-related docs I've seen recently: a declassified report on the FBI's usage of the PATRIOT Act Section 215 surveillance powers in 2006. The good stuff is redacted, but if you check out pp 71- 80 ("Other Noteworthy Items"), it looks like the FBI, as of 2006, believes that if the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rejects its request for business records under Section 215 (in this case, on First Amendment grounds), the FBI can simply send out a National Security Letter to get them anyway. Convenient!
  17. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 8
    Why are they collecting it in the first place? They're using it.

    And, whether they've read it or not, it is illegal. And immoral, I'd say.
  18. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    Rogue, seriously, I've covered this.

    The best analogy I can use are those giant nets that trawl for tuna. They're sifting, your stuff is in the way and pushed to one side.
  19. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 8
    I understand that. But you don't have to cover it again. We just disagree.
    KnightWriter likes this.
  20. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    If you know a better way to actively monitor internet traffic for discussions between substate actors who intend to commit acts of political violence, I'm all ears.
  21. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 8
  22. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 10
    No, you're critiquing without offering alternatives.
  23. jp-30 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Dec 14, 2000
    star 10
    Beezel has trolled Ender. Internet is done, thanks everyone, it was a nice ride.
    slightly_unhinged likes this.
  24. slightly_unhinged Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jan 28, 2014
    star 4
    If aimed at me, no. I lack the ability to lock myself in a suitcase so wouldn't pass muster.

    I know enough about the history of MI5 to say with confidence that there used to be a policy of starting a file on anyone involved in oxbridge student politics. Seems a sensible idea. Many will go on to be involved in real politics and there was that embarassing business with Burgess and friends.

    I know enough about data analysis to surmise that algorithms, not people, are trawling through the data to flag patterns and connections that may be of concern.

    I know that the human resource available for this is insufficient for prying into people's digital lives. At most a few hundred analysts interrogating millions of terrabytes of data simply doesn't allow for it.

    Once these data are passed from GCHQ to MI5 there is the same problem of resource. Looking at outcomes, I think it's fair to assume that priority is given to active members of known terrorist organisations. In order to thwart the al Qaida and more recently IS plots here significant resource must have been deployed.

    In the case of Adebolajo, the man had been under surveillance in the past but had clearly been able to use technology to communicate with Adebolawe about the attack (these comms discovered after the event) which would indicate that neither man was under close scrutiny at the time.

    Incidentally this mirrors the Australian situation with the IS beheading plot foiled and the lone nutjob slipping through the net.

    Logic indicates that there's a sliding scale of intrusion. Folks with active links to IS are watched like hawks, someone with dead ties to al Shebaab is on the radar but not closely scrutinised. Makes sense to have this kind of triage with such limited resource.

    I think, in the circumstances, it's pretty fair to assume that the most intrusion any of us are likely to have had is a quick, cursory check after raising a flag or two.

    I'm guessing this is the bit you're taking issue with?

    Dear chap, you will have had a background check when you applied for the diplomatic service. When I worked in Lebanon for a while in my early 20s a chap from MI6 will have done a quick check up to see that nothing was amiss. Some of the folks here with post grad degrees in chemistry or physics will have warranted a quick check to see if they're connected to any unsavoury dots on the radar. It's simple common sense for this to take place and I'd be concerned if it didn't.
  25. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 8
    And there's nothing wrong with doing that.
    VadersLaMent and KnightWriter like this.