Stating the obvious: The NSA is trying to crack codes

Every few days or so, there’s another revelation on National Security Agency spying techniques that come from the file dump by former analyst, now Russian refugee Edward Snowden.

Some revelations are pretty interesting. But then a new “revelation” is brought to light, and it makes you wonder if it’s really a revelation.

Like this report yesterday, released by three news organizations. Here’s the summary from Pro Publica:

  • The NSA has secretly and successfully worked to break many types of encryption, the widely used technology that is supposed to make it impossible to read intercepted communications.

  • Referring to the NSA’s efforts, a 2010 British document stated: “Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data are now exploitable.” Another British memo said: “Those not already briefed were gobsmacked!”

  • The NSA has worked with American and foreign tech companies to introduce weaknesses into commercial encryption products, allowing backdoor access to data that users believe is secure.

  • The NSA has deliberately weakened the international encryption standards adopted by developers around the globe.

Encryption is electronic coding of material, designed to ensure its security during transmission. The NSA is a spy agency. The main job of spy agencies is surveillance. Most of the time, that involves cracking code.

So what I gather from the above bullet points is “the NSA is cracking code.”

And were supposed to be surprise by this because …?

I’ve already posted a number of times that in a digital world, you have no secrets. I’ve never been under the impression that governments (and hackers) aren’t trying to unlock encrypted material.

I’d just ask that when these revelations like the material above is released, the news agencies provide some context on what it means. Are they saying it’s bad?

The lead of the Pro Publica story says this:

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

But there is no privacy in everyday communications. Rupert Murdoch‘s newspapers in London have been busted for hiring private detectives to hack the phone mail of politicians. movie stars and a dead teenager. Anything you post to social media is instantly accessible to people you don’t know. And (since I like posting this video) even your bank records are open to the world:

So, I ask again, why should be be surprised by this NSA “revelation”?

(Oh, yeah. And I hate the word “gobsmacked.”)

The absence of scandal

Paul Krugman, who is always right, issues an apology:

When Barack Obama was elected, I was sure that it would be the Clinton years all over — that he would be subjected to an endless series of claims of “scandal”, creating the sense of a tainted administration even though all the alleged scandals would turn out to be either trivial or nonexistent. Remember, after all those years of front-page headlines and $70 million in public funds, the Whitewater investigation came up dry.

In fact, however, none of that happened during Obama’s first term. But would the second term be different? For a little while it looked as if the old scandal machinery was finally springing back to life, with Benghazi, the IRS, and more. You could almost hear the sigh of contentment from a certain part of the press corps.

But now it has all evaporated. Benghazi never made sense; it turns out that the IRS was targeting conservative as well as liberal groups. And as Chait says in the linked article, the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.

Of course, the absence of any fire behind the smoke didn’t stop the Clinton witch hunts. But this time seems to be different. Maybe the news media have actually learned something; maybe they’re effectively disciplined, this time around, by the blogosphere. Anyway, the narrative of a scandal-ridden presidency seems to be evaporating as we speak.

So I was wrong. And I’m glad I was.

It isn’t that the Republicans are trying to make up scandals that aren’t there. It’s that no one believes what they say anymore. Take a look at the links at the bottom of this post.  The GOP is making itself irrelevant.

The Senate and the surveillance status quo

Now that the world’s attention is focused on the massive surveillance apparatus of the NSA, what’s Congress going to do to get to the heart of the matter?

Nothing, of course:

A recent briefing by senior intelligence officials on surveillance programs failed to attract even half of the Senate, showing the lack of enthusiasm in Congress for learning about classified security programs.

Many senators elected to leave Washington early Thursday afternoon instead of attending a briefing with James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency (NSA), and other officials.

The Senate held its last vote of the week a little after noon on Thursday, and many lawmakers were eager to take advantage of the short day and head back to their home states for Father’s Day weekend.

Only 47 of 100 senators attended the 2:30 briefing, leaving dozens of chairs in the secure meeting room empty as Clapper, Alexander and other senior officials told lawmakers about classified programs to monitor millions of telephone calls and broad swaths of Internet activity.

So more than half the Senate has decided this scandal is no biggie. OK, folks. Nothing to see here.

Five stages of surveillance

TMW2013-06-12colo2I’m pretty much at stage 4.

And as I noted a couple of days ago, I did go to see the documentary “We Steal Secrets.” It’s worth seeing in the context of the latest surveillance scandal, since it deals with Pfc. Bradley Manning, who’s on trial right now, and how he dumped hundreds of thousands of classified documents with WikiLeaks.

There really isn’t that much difference between what happened then and what’s happening now with Edward Snowden and his revelation. Both stories seem to boil down to two disillusioned computer geeks who were given free access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets. And when it comes to secrets, nothing is more dangerous than a computer geek with a zip drive.

The lesson to take from it all is, there are no secrets. Anyone can spy on anyone at any time. It’s just a matter of whether you’re worth being spied on.

There was a time when spies looked like this.

boris_and_natasha_1%5B1%5DBut that’s old school. Espionage is now high tech, so now spies look like this:

Mr.-Peabody-Sherman-classic-60s-cartoon

 

How the NSA affects you: the movie explanation

What with everyone now focused on the NSA and its massive collection of data on you, me and everyone we know, let’s see what information Hollywood has given us on this mysterious spy agency.

Digby found the perfect clip from “Good Will Hunting.”

I wonder how much data the NSA has collected on Matt Damon?

Yes, you’re paranoid … and you are being watched

There are no secrets in the Internet age (from the Washington Post):

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

So the government is watching you.

But we already knew that anyone could find out anything about anybody at anytime. And it doesn’t have to be the government doing the snooping. Remember this?

I should be upset about this “revelation.” But since it’s common knowledge that even a guy doing a bank commercial can access all of your information to prove the point that if you use the Internet you have no privacy, why should you be surprised that the government can do the same thing … even better?

If we want something done about it, we demand Congress pass laws to ensure our privacy. Of course, that won’t stop government, or corporate, or individual intrusion into our electronic information, but it provides the illusion of satisfaction that someone will go to jail when the invasion of privacy gets out of line.

And what the government is doing is legal. Those laws had their genesis in the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program that started in 2007 and expanded during the Obama administration. People complained, but the post-9/11 paranoia that “terrorists are going to kill us all” made it really easy for Congress to approve the intrusions.

On the other hand, the Internet allows individuals to gain access to secret government information. But you can go to jail for that.

I’m going to see this today:

Who gets to control information?