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19 June 2013


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Alba Etie

How credible is Snowden? There appears to be a concerted effort to smear Snowden in the MSM . Its hard for we non experts to judge how 'big a deal" is the ruckus Snowden has caused. But just on the face of what I understand about PRISM - I find myself going back to first very simple statements - such as hell no to expanded background checks on guns , for one statement .

William R. Cumming

Thanks Richard for helpful history. The real story is that nothing much has changed when DEM President's take power and continue the ignorance of former Governors or whatever about the operations of the National Security State. All pervasive now just as ready as ever for the first real USA dictator with a smiling face and folksy style. No white horse needed. As declared by Samuel Huntington in his book the "Soldier and the STATE" [a conclusion with which I disagree] the last bastion of democracy may well be the military. Personally I believe the last bastion is the voter but of course in the USA we have a largely corrupted voting system operated by the STATES.


The "real and enduring threat..." are marketers? Marketers don't have the power to take away my freedom and possessions by force of arms. The real advancement here is the ability to store all of this information for future perusal--say political enemies.

This follows the recent "marketing" campaign by the NSA, "we stopped over 50 terrorist attacks." I don't give a damn how many you stopped if you violated the Constitution. The next argument will be how much crime we could stopped by looking for keywords in the nations private conversations and email.

Totalitarian governments have lower crime rates. Small price to pay to make "us" safer?


A current sitting US Congressman made an interesting point this week. He noted that the real objective of the NSA tracking has nothing to do with combatting terrorism. He pointed to the Capitol Building and said that the cowardice of the vast majority of Members of Congress is due to the fact that they know that their emails, their phone calls, their credit card accounts and every other form of electronic communication are monitored. The Big Brother state has nothing to do with terrorism. It has everything to do with much more ambitious social engineering. What you raise about the mass data gathering of every citizen who ever used a credit or debit card or opened an email account by marketing agencies is a clear part of the problem. When Google and other outfits ran out of data storage space in 2009, the NSA budgeted $149 million to those "private sector" firms to accelerate the expansion of their storage--so the integrated government/commercial data bases could run on time.


"It seems to me that the real menaces of the privacy of U.S. citizens are marketers who plot every visit to a web site, every purchase in a store or on line, to make a pattern out of our habits to relieve them of our money. That is the real and enduring threat."

Boy ain't this the truth. It is also one reason corporate America would like Snowden, the NSA and Uncle Sam to take the heat for data mining. The health care industry is another one that will be doing this 'customer identification' soon if they are not already.


I do think you are missing the point (in my view, which probably is different than the ruckus). As in the most recent Bill Moyers we were warned by 1984, Brave New World and many others of the irresistible power to know anything on anyone for future leaders (now past). sure there are ragtag enemies like Al Q, who got lucky once, but as everyone knows the true enemies are the fifth column, with tentacles to the highest level. History show it is impossible to eliminate the fifth column, the key is to control it. Get the goods on potential sources of disharmony and control them. Seductive and irresistable to those with a mandate to rule in the overall name of the greater good. And best part is, there is zero accountability, no sunlight ever.

Is there a problem with this vision? Our founders thought so, but then they also didn't think we could keep the enlightened vision for long without new revolutions. They were very smart men who we all honor in very strange ways.

I recommend Lawrence Lessig:


who proposes what seems to me a solution that perhaps Jefferson would have approved of.


Mr. Sale,
I think the point is that there is a major difference between government on government snooping (where all bets are off), and a routine government surveillance of the population without cause.

There is a reason why the East Germany security and surveillance state was such an abomination.

The power relations state-vs-state (equal) and gvt-vs-citizens (unequal) are very different.

States do have sovereignty, but not an expectation of privacy. Citizens do have a expectation of privacy and a canon of enshrined rights that the government must respect.

If the government doesn't respect these rights, citizens are in for a rough ride.

I think Mr. Snowden rightly points out that in particular the domestic aspects of US surveillance apparatus make the system established a 'turn-key totalitarian state'.

All that is needed to make it one is a political will and a few software upgrades.

And as for the political will - just think what lawmakers were happy to allow for after 9/11. Surveillance can have devastating consequences for individual lives if abused.

no one

Richard, I don't see where there should be any uproar over 1. Snowden's "revelation" that the US government listens in on diplomats, leaders, foreign governments, terrorists, etc. As you note, anyone who didn't know that already (anyone including terrorists) has been living under a rock. 2. Because of 1, over Snowden supposedly compromising operations.

The uproar that I think is justified is over the US government applying these same techniques to US citizens, including members of the press and elected rep.s - with the sinister insinuation that information obtained would be used to subvert civil rights and other normal democratic processes (think McCarthyism, silencing the free press, fixing elections via blackmail and bribery). After all, what person in power could resist the temptation? Information *is* power.

Personally, I always assumed the latter activity was taking place. I guess some people wanted to see a happier vision and now that has been dispelled.


Hope you paid cash for the guns, else the feds have a record of every purchase you made via the financial transaction. All this ruckus about background checks to prevent the feds from identifying individual gun owners turned out to be pointless--the feds already know.

Strange that the NRA hasn't complained...

J.R. Brooks

"So I do not quite understand the uproar of Snowden’s revelations except it reveals the mainstream media doesn’t read and doesn’t bother to acquaint itself with the past."

How true.



The Snowden revelations are:

A) The extent of his power (all the way up to the president...), as a contracted employee of the U.S. government, and

B) the extent of the listening, which includes basically everything everyone is transmitting over the Internet, forever.

He has made his points perfectly clear in the interviews. What of his asserted concerns do you feel are misappropriated, Mr. Sale?


I've puzzled over this myself. I work a lot for computer security firms, and the general consensus on this stuff is that we already knew about it. I think there's an assumption about the privacy and security of electronic communications that is simply false. And the level of ignorance is vast. Where Snowden comes in is that suddenly everyone has become aware of something that a much smaller number of us already knew.

Personally I've been surprised at the relative clumsiness of the systems and tactics described. It's shocking to me that a world leader would be stupid or misinformed enough to send unsecured communications over a wireless hotspot at an Internet café, for example. Then again, the director of the CIA was sending love letters via his personal Gmail account, so there you go...


Richard: Thank you for this piece. It fills in on a more technical scale what I have always thought; I have no privacy. From the days of Hoover's FBI, parts of the government have always been listening, with ever increasing technical sophistication.

What really bothers me are the vast numbers of civilian contractors with access to this information. Their security seems to be a joke.

Medicine Man

I'll confess I have diminishing sympathy for Snowden. As Mr. Sale points out, much of what he has disclosed is not revelatory, and if we're at all concerned about the distinction between a whistleblower and a leaker, Snowden's disclosures about US espionage efforts targeting China and Russia are quite damning. It reminds me of the whole imbroglio with Bradley Manning; a naive man with too much access to information.

Chris E

With all due respect I think you are mistaken in one respect. You assume that the 'marketers' and the 'intelligence community' are separate and disjoint worlds. In reality they are not any longer - therein lies the danger.


Edward Snowden is simply the latest in a long line of NSA-related US intelligence officers who have become whistle blowers since the "war on terror" began, which is unprecedented. Check out what William Binney, Thomas Drake, J. Kirk Wiebe, Russ Tice and Edward Loomis have said on the record. Consider the case Jewel vs the NSA . . . IT is all out there and has been for some time . . . That it took Snowden's actions of desperation to get the public's attention only shows me how deep in fact the rot goes . . .


Snowden has legs because the media that towed the line for the security state was offended when it was used on them (Associated Press).

It will go away when they get their pound of flesh.


Certainly agree insofar as the power of marketers v. the power of the government. I fear the government far more than, say, Amazon.com.

Though I would just add that with the involvement of google, microsoft, and other techdoms in the government's surveillance programs, it is increasingly difficult to separate private interests from government interests. There is money to be made.

A full response to the capture of the state by corporate interests would be a multi-page post.


If it's not revelatory, how is it damaging?

Alba Etie

I only use credit cards for fuel,maintence & repairs for my commercial passenger van . The printed receipts are good for tax returns,

Alba Etie

Case in point Gen Hayden is now working for Booz Hamilton setting up the same type of surveillance architecture for the government in the UAE .


I doubt if Snowden's leaks will hamper the NSA's data mining of the world. The revelations themselves serve the purpose of making people aware they are being listened to, manipulating them to self-censor. The wrong joke, a burst of anger, a mere speculation or political organizing will attract the attention of some twerp at the NSA, and set you on the road for getting a FISA warrant to monitor your every move. You will be hassled, at the least, and possibly jailed for your words, that is your thoughts. This is the definition of a totalitarian system, and it functions as a societal control only if you think you are being watched.

Tom Engelhardt has a good column about the global security state.



Okay, so I have a bit of a different perspective. I work in Big Data in the Silicon Valley. We (meaning the Valley, and Big Data analytics companies in particular) provided the NSA with the technology they use to store and data-mine these masses of data. A couple of points:

1) The stated purpose of the mass data collection -- to detect patterns of terrorist activity -- is utter bunk. The amount of data collected is far too huge to run general analytics of that sort on it. When you have 250 million people tweeting, calling, Skyping, emailing, purchasing with credit cards, writing checks... the amount of storage that it takes to store all this is quite heavily sharded in a way that precludes general analytics upon the whole mass. There's just too much data. I once estimated that it would take an entire nuclear power station just to power the hard drives for the data itself, nevermind the indexes or the compute servers needed to access the data. It's possible to find data matching specific criteria -- such as "give me everybody who has been called from phone number xxx-yyy-zzzz" -- quite rapidly, that's just a simple map-reduce set loose upon thousands of compute servers each of which is operating upon a shard of the data. But detecting patterns across the entire mass of data? Impossible with current technology.

2) As implied above, the most practical use for counter-terrorism purposes is to find out who a specific known person has been talking to, where he has been going, and so forth for the purposes of finding out who his co-conspirators are. I.e., you have to go from the possible terrorist person to the data about that person and identify other people based on that person's connections. It doesn't work the other way around, it won't go from non-specific data to identify a possible terrorist. There are too many people with too many connections for the technology to currently do that. Yet. (We're working on it).

3) But: The information could be used to identify the habits and interactions of *anybody*. Almost everybody has *something* that they'd prefer not be revealed. Few are angels who've lived perfect lives. This is especially true of politicians and activists, who, let us be clear, are generally rather narcissistic people otherwise they wouldn't be interested in being politicians or activists. The opportunities for blackmail and intimidation of politicians and activists and even *potential* politicians and activists are endless. We got a taste of the potential of this when Clarence Thomas was confronted with the fact that he'd rented Long Dong Silver porno flicks from a XXX-rated video store. When you have serial adulterer family values politicians in Congress... it's Hoover's files on steroids.

And the latter is what the American people are starting to get a little concerned about. They aren't concerned with their data in the hands of commercial enterprises. Commercial enterprises want their business, and misusing that data would lose their business. But vast unaccountable government agencies in possession of people's most personal and private interactions? What's to stop that data from being misused like Hoover's supposed blackmail files? The laughable "oversight" provided by Congress? The unaccountability is what's starting to sink in.

Personally, knowing the limits of the technology and close contacts with people who are former or current NSA, I have little interest in hysterics. I've been on their radar for years due to some activities around cryptography technology that I won't describe here. And, uhm, the worst hasn't happened. I haven't been "disappeared" and I haven't been blackmailed and, for that matter, I have not been blacklisted from the industry, we agree to disagree about certain things but in the end we're all Americans doing what we believe is honorable and right. For the *present* we appear to still have sufficiently honorable people in the ranks to keep these piles of data from being misused in the way I mention in #3. Still. Depending upon individual honor and the laughable oversight provided by Congress to prevent misuse of this pile of data is like depending upon a screen door to prevent burglary. It may dissuade those not inclined to burglary, but that's still troubling.

William R. Cumming

Thanks Badlux99 interesting comment!

Anyone know if BIGDATA being used to do background investigations for personnel security clearances?

no one

Badtux, agree 100% with your comment. At this point of technological development they can't do with the data what they say they are doing with it. They are lying. However, they can do what you say is within their range of capabilities.

My concerns about what they are doing with the data are the same as yours. It has little to do with terrorism and a lot to do with power and control and subversion of our constitutional republic.

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