New documents reveal massive NSA surveillance capabilities

General Keith AlexanderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Documents provided by American former intelligence technician Edward Snowden show that the United States National Security Agency has unprecedented surveillance capabilities, which allow it to monitor nearly every online activity of targeted Internet users. Snowden, a self-styled whistleblower, who is currently in Russia, provided British newspaper The Guardian with an NSA training presentation. The visually based presentation explains the inner workings of an intelligence collection program called XKeyscore, which the NSA describes as its “widest-reaching” digital collection program. The system allows NSA data collectors to sift through massive online databases containing millions of individual users’ browsing histories, emails and chats —what the NSA calls digital network intelligence (DNI). According to the training presentation, authorized NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by entering their name, email address, IP address or telephone number. The presentation states that, upon entering the identifying information, an NSA analyst can tap into “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet”, including the content and metadata of emails, website browsing and search terms used. Snowden told The Guardian that an NSA analyst only needs to know a user’s personal email address in order to “wiretap anyone [while] sitting at [his] desk, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President”. What is more, it appears that NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by simply “filling in an [...] on-screen form”, and by giving only a very broad justification for the probe. Additionally, individual digital collection operations are not approved by a court or senior NSA officers. According to Snowden, all an NSA analyst has to do is suspect that the targeted online user is in contact with “a foreign target”. Meanwhile, NSA Director Keith Alexander was jeered by participants during his keynote speech at the Black Hat Technical Security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Alexander used his speech at the conference, which hosts a gathering of cybersecurity experts, to justify the need for the NSA’s online surveillance program. But he was booed when he suggested that the media has “misrepresented” the program. Members of the audience yelled at him, one telling him he did not trust him. Another accused him of lying to Congress, to which the NSA Director responded: “I haven’t lied to Congress. I do think it’s important for us to have this discussion. Because in my opinion, what you believe is what’s written in the press without looking at the facts. This is the greatest technical center of gravity in the world. I ask that you all look at those facts”. One conference attendee told RT that some supporters did applaud Alexander. The NSA strongman closed his speech by assuring his audience that NSA has “tremendous oversight over these programs. We audit the actions of our people 100 per cent”.

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8 Responses to New documents reveal massive NSA surveillance capabilities

  1. Pete says:

    I’m wondering whether General Alexander, in light of his poor showing, will be asked to fall on his sword?

    Obama may replace him with a civilian liberal NSA Director as a pacifier for a Congress that is becoming too inquisitive about the impact on democracy of a huge barely controlled secret organisation?

    Presumably the NSA has compiled or has access to information significant enough to ensure cooperation from most political leaders – including America’s leading politicians?

  2. TFH says:

    In and of itself there is nothing wrong with a security organization like NSA to have these capabilities, it’s a matter of trust. Problem is lack of oversight and accountability, no one knows if the info gathered is only used to fight terror and crime, plus the historical close ties of government and global corporations that answer to no one but the shareholders and have been found guilty multiple times for crimes against humanity and nature (e.g. Bhopal), despite having legal teams to squiggle their way out of lawsuits and probably teams of another sort to prevent things from ever getting that far. Also with history of deception and even human experiment (e.g. Tuskegee syphilis experiment) there is no good reason to trust these organizations blindly.

  3. Pete says:

    @TFH

    Yes the global “corporations” or contractor companies that provide an integral portion of the NSA are a worrying angle.

    Can such companies gain commercial advantage from what they pickup through sigint about their competitors. Their competitors may be companies headquartered in the US or foreign transnationals (like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaspersky_Lab ) headquartered outside the US but constantly represented-working in the US?

  4. TFH says:

    @Pete

    My unqualified guess would be that Kaspersky, Huawei and their US counterpart take such help from their local intelligence community as granted and treat it as a part of competing on the global marketplace.
    I was thinking more of multinational corporations in general that fund political campaigns and keep former, current and future politicians on their payroll, but reading your comment I came to think that shareholders and board members in the corporations that provide service to the NSA can of course also be present in corporations like Montesanto, Rio Tinto and other such that have history of abusing their position and continue to this day to violate human rights and pollute the environment without restraints.

  5. Pete says:

    Certainly there is a US defense and intelligence revolving door that will see Gen Alexander in numerous directorships and consultancies if/when he goes.

  6. Pete says:

    Here is a short (less than 3 minutes) ProPublica video that puts Administration untruths about NSA surveillance in a very poor light http://boingboing.net/2013/08/03/six-blatant-lies-about-spying.html from

  7. TFH says:

    Re: Six blatant lies … how embarrassing, no wonder Obama is frosty towards Putin over Snowden.

  8. Pete says:

    Interesting portrait of General Alexander http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/06/general-keith-alexander-cyberwar/all/ emphasising his political power resulting in high recent funding for the NSA – perhaps a rapid expansion?

    A measure of Alexander’s power is that he’s been head of NSA for a relatively long time – since 2005 http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/06/general-keith-alexander-cyberwar/all/ .

    He plans to retire next year – unknown whether this is a long term intention or accelerated by the Snowden controversy.

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