Is the NSA outsourcing its domestic spying to Israel?
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Israeli tech may have helped the NSA spy on US citizens. Should the American public be upset, or say thank you

769px-National_Security_Agency_headquarters,_Fort_Meade,_Maryland

If you’re the NSA, the largest and most well funded digital security agency in the world, and you have to spy on hundreds of millions of your own citizens – a task too complicated, both technically and legally, for you to carry out by yourself; who’s the only friend you have both talented and trustworthy enough to help you carry it out; Habibi, do you really have to ask? Israel of course.

After reports in both The Washington Post and The Guardian, exposed an NSA program called PRISM, which has been mining the flow of raw data from U.S. citizen communications over the networks of 4 major telecom providers and 9 of the worlds largest tech giants, questions arose on how the NSA was able to accomplish this task legally, without forcing the companies in question to voluntarily fork over their user data.

Director of National Intelligence and Chief of the spooky geeks, James Clapper, in an effort to quell the brewing media storm, declassified and released details about PRISM and its operating principles, stating that actions regarding PRISM were taken with “approval from a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) judge and [were] conducted with the knowledge of the provider and service providers [who] supply information when they are legally required to do so.”

Two problems with this: One, the ‘F’ in FISA stands for Foreign, not Domestic, so how was the NSA able to legally spy on hundreds of millions of communications originating from U.S. residents? Two, all the companies in question have issued statements categorically denying any involvement in the voluntary transfer of anything to the NSA. Something smells rotten in Maryland. How’d you do it Clapper?

One theory that’s been gaining traction as of late, on how the NSA got around those pesky little things called laws, is that they outsourced the project to Israel. In an April of 2012 piece in Wired magazine, James Bamford reported that two Israeli companies, Narus and Verint, both with extensive links to Israel’s elite intelligence unit known as the 8200, have provided hardware and software services to U.S. telecom companies on behalf of the NSA.

OK, so they provided some ‘services’, but that could be anything. Maybe they stocked their vending machines with chumos? Besides, plenty of companies must have provided services to these telecom giants over the years. Who’s to say it was specifically Israel who provided the technology that allowed for the NSA to spy on its own citizens?

Well, according to a former Verizon employee turned whistleblower, Verizon had been using Verint technologies to tap their lines, while AT&T whistleblower, Mark Klein, claimed that his former employer had secret rooms, powered by Narus, designed to vacuum up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans, with the cooperation of AT&T, [gasp]. OK, guilty.

Now, consider the fact that Israel has provided the NSA with state-of-the-art eavesdropping and filtering technology, and combine it with the knowledge that the NSA is currently constructing a $2B facility in the Utah desert, capable of storing and filtering Yottabytes worth of information (or a trillion terabytes, or as I like to think of it, a Jedi master’s worth of bytes), should American citizens be worried that their private lives are being spied upon?

Take it from us Israelis, who have been living with this for some time now, when we say: No, they shouldn’t be.

First off, it’s time to wake up to the reality that everything we do or say in cyberspace (unless you go darknet) is being recorded by someone, somewhere. If it’s not the government, it’s Google, or Amazon or Verizon. Second, the amount of information we’re talking about here, is way too big for the government to actually look at on an individual basis, even if they wanted to. There simply aren’t enough cumulative man hours to go through the data. So no, there are no human eyes looking at what we users do.What the government can, and does do, is datamine the information for an extremely specific subset of red flags that alerts them as to when a piece of information is worth designating a pair of human eyes to give it a once over. Assuming you’re not surfing the jihad message boards, looking for stimulating, and strictly intellectual conversations on the merits of various brands of fertilizer that offer discounted rates when bought by the ton, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will mistakenly flag your personal communications for human review.

Yes, the Obama administration has overseen some major government abuses lately, like the ongoing IRS scandal, where non-profit requests were filtered and given over to added scrutiny based on political beliefs. But that situation was dealing with cases where people specifically sent in forms to be reviewed directly by human IRS representatives. No terrorists are submitting terror requests to the NSA for review. The NSA has to mine their own information. There’s no way the NSA has the human bandwidth to deal properly with all foreign and domestic digital communication on the sole matter of terror, let alone dividing their efforts for some other nefarious purpose.

On the flip side of things, the filtering system will serve as a powerful tool to aid and abet officials fighting the war on terror, alerting the appropriate authorities when the right digital cocktail of terror communique is mixed, either domestically or abroad. If anything, what US citizens should be worrying about, is the ability of the human element to follow up sufficiently on flags raised by the system. All too often we find out, after the fact, that tragedies could have been avoided if authorities shared and acted upon information with a greater sense of urgency.

About the only thing I can see for US citizens to be upset about, is that once again, this administration is breaking its promises and shipping jobs overseas. You can’t trust anyone these days.

 

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Avi Schneider

About Avi Schneider


Global editor and writer for Geektime, author of the book 'How To Fight For Your Goals: Social Combat Theory' and the SocialCombatMedia.wordpress blog, founder of Cluboom and former senior writer for Blonde 2.0. Schneider is an orthodox Jew, husband, father, martial artist, writer, speaker - overall Jack of all trades and a master of jack (but working on it).

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  • Negby

    It would seem that you are asserting that only a small percentage of the data goes under human scrutiny.

    Whether a specific individual’s data will be inspected sort of depends on storage capacity. If only a small percentage gets human scrutiny, a larger percentage may be stored for potential analysis (for a limited time).

    So if the NSA decides one day that your life is worth spying on, private things you’ve said a while back (email, text messages – not social media) might still be on record and come back to haunt you.

  • kupoi

    Jews ruled american, no wonder

  • Anonymous

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  • Jon

    I work for a vendor who provides services to a wide range of distributors, the client base of whom is meant to be private info. Just as an example of another aspect of the potential damage from this program, were the NSA (or their Israeli surrogates) interested in forwarding our client base data to a competitor to gain a marketplace advantage, they wouldn’t even need to read our emails or listen to our phone calls… they could just use the metadata compiled from our phone and email records to compile a list of our entire customer base in relatively little time and complete secrecy, allowing anyone they provide with the information to solicit our customers at an advantage. They could focus their advertising budget specifically on targeting our clients. How is this not a threat??? Particularly when it comes to Israelis, who have a reputation for corporate espionage. This matter isn’t just about personal privacy, though that’s more than reason enough to object to it. There are enormous consequences to having this kind of surveillance state, one of those consequences being the providing of a tool for market manipulation in the hands of government at the expense of private industry. So no, we shouldn’t “get over it”, and we are very much threatened by this. It’s even worse when it’s outsourced than when it’s our own government spying on us, because Israelis have no reason not to steal U.S. corporate data for their own purposes.

  • Joe

    Time to think creatively about personally exchanged one time pads, an array of trusted random short term key generators, encrypted radio broadcasts, and good ole’ fashioned snail mail, if you’ve got secrets to keep, that is. And the irony, both that these are now more secure than the internet, and that your enemy’s greatest weakness is always his arrogance.

    This works no matter who your enemy is, but some enemies are more arrogant than others. 😉

    Here’s a question to ponder…how does one know whether a given message contains encrypted content?

    Quem deus vult perdere, dementat prius.

  • James

    I guess Americans and Europeans are afraid of being called anti-semites for discussing this article which claims that a foreign country is spying on American soil.

  • Pieter

    If you consider the minimum wage debate and the way Americans are treated by American companies, then I think Americans are treated like modern day slaves. The GOP tries its best to rid American workers of all worker rights and subsidies for unemployed or underpaid workers. Combine this with the massive subsidies for arms to Israel and that the Jewish community is a very influential and rich group in America, then Americans are actually ‘slaves of the State of Israel’. In a way this was the same fate some argue Germans suffered in pre-Nazi Germany. Some argue that Germans were working in Jewish factories as indenture slaves for very low wages. According to this interpretation the situation of indenture slavery led to the growth of the Nazi Party. Wonder where the Tea Party fits in? Would like confirmation, or if someone can debunk the argument of indenture working conditions of the Germans. The sad thing is that the conqueror writes history.

    • Well things haven’t changed in the last 80 years. Dell factory workers in China who live and work at the factory work with hazardous materials aren’t given proper safety gear and have 1 toilet for 65 people and 1 shower for 92 people or vice versa. Before WWII at the Wedgewood China Factory (I don’t know what year) they employed little children who would sick from I think it was mercury and didn’t care. The Talmud states non Jewish men are beasts in human form.

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