Domestic Spying: How the NSA is Watching You Through a PRISM


For those of you who are still unaware, the Washington Post and the Guardian released stories yesterday claiming that an anonymous NSA official released information to them about a secret wiretapping system called the PRISM / US-984XN. This system ties into virtually every major email and social media provider, allowing NSA officials to view every electronic transaction a user engages in through those social media systems. The list of providers working with the NSA include Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype and AOL. This system is always up, and does not limit the NSA's access based on warrants issued by a judge.

A whistle-blower tried to expose this system of integrated intelligence collection years ago. William Binney, a former NSA employee with the signals intelligence agency within the DoD, stated the NSA "has the capability to do individualized searches, similar to Google, for particular electronic communications in real time through such criteria as target addresses, locations, countries and phone numbers, as well as watch-listed names, keywords, and phrases in email." Binney said the system at the time was called "Stellar Wind."

This is a separate incident from the Verizon phone number scandal, where the NSA was issued blanket search warrants by a judge allowing them to collect the phone records of virtually every subscriber. Verizon is the only provider we are aware of, but there is a high likelihood that most of the other major cellular providers were issued similar warrants. While we know the NSA got the call records, statements made by the NSA indicate that the calls themselves were also recorded.

These combined scandals, as well as the FBI's recent demands that all corporations incorporate backdoor wiretapping abilities into their own software, paint a picture of a supremely paranoid sociopathic state that has turned its formidable intelligence services against its own population.

People should ask themselves a few questions. If you were going to plot a terrorist operation against the U.S., would you use unencrypted social media or cellular text messaging to organize your plot?  There are thousands of way to communicate messages online that make it impossible for the state to intercept or decrypt the messages being sent. It seems to me that those are the means of communication the NSA should be most worried about if it was really trying to stop foreign terrorists from plotting an operation in the U.S. The systems described in these scandals are explicitly designed to target U.S. citizens.

With the PRISM system and cellular phone tapping systems, the government is collecting and storing virtually everything U.S. citizens are doing online. Remember that massive data center that the NSA built in Buffdale Utah?  A data center that big isn't designed to hold a supercomputer; it's designed to store and analyze massive amounts of data.  Supercomputers are relatively small. You don't need that much floor space for a supercomputer. However, you do need that much space if you are storing vast amounts of data. Given the statements made by Binney and the recent information that has come out regarding the scandals, it appears that the U.S. government is storing virtually everything everyone in the U.S. is doing online.

Listening to Binney tell his tale is absolutely chilling:

Wiki notes that "after he left the NSA in 2001, Binney was one of several people investigated as part of an inquiry into the 2005 New York Times exposé on the agency's warrantless eavesdropping program. Binney was cleared of wrongdoing after three interviews with FBI agents beginning in March 2007, but one morning in July 2007, a dozen agents armed with rifles appeared at his house, with one of them entering the bathroom where Binney was toweling off after a shower, pointing a gun at him. In that raid, the FBI confiscated a desktop computer, disks and personal and business records. The NSA revoked his security clearance, forcing him to close a business he ran with former colleagues, which cost him a reported $300,000 annual income."

Binney says he decided to blow the whistle when he realized that the systems he helped build were being deployed against U.S. citizens without their knowledge. He goes on to say that the systems can even listen to your phone if you are not making a call, turning your iPhone into an iBug. Binney estimates that the data center in Buffdale is capable of storing 100 years worth of the entire world's electronic communications. The purpose is to monitor what everybody is doing, rather than to help capture terrorists.

Binney says that the system he helped build is designed to tie all of the information from systems like PRISM, and the cellular phone tapping programs, into one gigantic data store that builds profiles on every single person that it collects data on. At this point, it's safe to say that the NSA has a profile on virtually every single person reading this article. The system is designed to create a composite image of a person's life, tying all of the collected information from hundreds of different sources into a searchable timeline.

Binney said the program was originally implemented under George Bush, with George Tenet and Dick Cheney knowing about it.  Binney said they wanted to highly classify the "extreme impeachable crimes" they were committing. He goes on to say that "this is something that the KGB or Gestapo would have loved to have about their populations.  And just because we call ourselves a democracy — right? — doesn't mean we will stay that way."

When we put all of these reports together, and analyze them along side the state's actions against whistle-blowers like Binney and Bradley Manning, it demonstrates that the U.S. classification system is not designed to keep sensitive information out of enemy hands, but rather to keep the U.S. public from learning about the pervasive security state they live under.