The latest hubub over the nature and scope of phone call “metadata” collection and archiving by the National Security Agency (NSA) is gratifying in the fact that the general population is starting to awake to this issue. However, while important, is but a small slice of the whole pie that must be exposed and dealt with soon, before it spins completely out of control like Godzilla on a rampage.
Since the ‘revelations’ regarding NSA domestic ‘spying’ on the 3 billion supposedly private phone records generated everyday by the popuilation, I’ve been sent a steady stream of questions about what this means. Because of my early background and experience in intelligence collection systems and methods I have also received media requests.
On one radio interview last week the host seemed taken aback when I said the currently exposed collection of call detail record (CDR-although the current in-vogue term is “metadata”) data is, “just the tip of the iceberg” and that such monitoring, “goes back decades,” not years as the politicians and press are trying to spin it.
To a large degree I find myself highly chagrinned by this reaction. I have been sounding this alarm bell continuously since 1986 when I left the intelligence and defense systems engineering business for good. The negative effects were already apparent for several years before that but, it seems, most people wished to ignore them. Most have been convinced, then as now, that the “security” benefits were too convenient and, buying-in to the propaganda line, “keeping America safe.”
I immediately saw that the technologies and methodologies had already started to migrate into the commercial network technology and IT business. Much of this comes from “leakage” (where engineers, techs and managers with intelligence background leave the agencies) and build the same capability into commercial and industrial companies.
During my stint in that sector I had come to realize that the technologies and the capabilities were way too attractive to unprincipled, unscrupulous and government (or is that redundant?) employees. That was true even if initially the monitoring started out for the purposes of true national security of foreign and external threats. I realized that:
- The capabilities would only grow and migrate until a rationale was found to embed those capabilities into the domestic telecommunication infrastructure, and,
- The technologies and methods would migrate into the private sector in many other ways creating all kinds of different levels of monitoring of individuals by corporations with seemingly “commercial interest.” This was additionally dangerous due to the added level of access and incentive it would give government agencies to co-opt or even force (through vehicles like FISA courts) ‘cooperation’ to turn over such data and information.
In my recently released book, “The Citizen’s Last Stand: Are YOU Ready?” I go to some length to extensively and subtly expose the vast extent of this intelligence-gathering infrastructure that is being turned increasingly on our own population.
The planning for all this began during the Cold War in the 70s. On the pretext of having to make the National Telecommunication Infrastructure (NTI) capable of surviving a large-scale nuclear attack, a series of interconnected programs were initiated. Those programs involved everything from exploring ways of hardening the NTI against electro-magnetic pulse (EMP), to back-up of critical elements and taking over command and control of the NTI in order to enable the continuity of government (COG) functions and conduct war-fighting. It is the latter, COG, where most of the mischief began as implementation proceeded in the 80s.
Through the late 80s and 90s I took note of the number of visible tap points popping up in telco carrier central offices (CO) across the country. They were connected into available points in the main switching equipment, in locked wire cages next to telco equipment bays. I recognized the agency equipment and installation configurations after years of working the same systems. The CO systems were augmented by a rolling system of semi-tractor/trailer vans built to connect-in at special access points all over the country.
Most CO techs, engineers and managers were paranoid about discussing them, so usually I just mentally noted them and went about my own business in the CO. Now they have both physical and virtual taps in place from the fiber level on up through the “protocol stack.” Particularly heinous is how much of this activity skirts the law by having foreign allies (such as GCHQ in the UK) ‘remotely’ spying on the NTI and then share it back with NSA. The agency reciprocates by doing the same for our allies. That way none of the domestic agencies are in technical violation of the own law. Also, all the government mouthpieces have “plausible deniability” when discussing what the NSA systems do or don’t do domestically.
When one realizes the full extent of the embedded capability it far outstrips what most folks think up in their wildest imagining, even of the Hollywood versions. Most Hollywood versions are entertaining bur complete drivel. However bad you may think it is realize it is at least 10 times worse.
It is dangerous not because some fraction of the capability may have some national security justification. It is dangerous due to its massive size, scope and enormous potential for abuse, hidden behind a near-complete wall of secrecy. Once in place, it’s too easy and tempting to not exploit such capabilities by the corrupt, unscrupulous and unprincipled that infest government and the political system of the left and the right.
Further, once one ties financial data, to medical data (think IRS) to all the personal data one may have or compile in their life (phone, text, email, web-browsing, etc.), there is nothing safe from manipulation, error and abuse of any American’s rights and liberties at any time the wrong people are in charge of government at any level. It is not a matter of “if,” it is only matter of what extent and how often.
Worse, is how the political infrastructure is already closing ranks to protect these programs. I have listened all week to Congresscritters, 95+% who have no real idea how any of this is implemented, how it works or understand the scope, tell us that all is well and this is all for our own good, safety and security. IT IS NOT.
The question now is, “How are we going to reduce it?” The NSA and the rest of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) has a huge expansion underway across the entire alphabet-soup of 16 agencies in the Directorate. Given the massive inertia and entrenched interest of behind-the-mirror secretive agency contractors from TRW to CACI to SAIC and hundreds of others, there is likely only one way it will be reduced, similar to much of the rest of the federal leviathan; the fiscal implosion of the budget.
With $17 trillion in principal federal debt and with the net-present-value of unfunded liabilities exceeding $130 trillion, there is little doubt an reduction to this surveillance madness is coming this decade in some form. The questions left are whether it will be down-sized in a managed fashion or chaotically collapse, negatively affecting our true national security? Also, how many unconstitutional features will take precedence in the collapsing system? Since Congress and the Administration continually fail to actually deal with any real solutions in the fiscal budget, it’s easy to predict chaotic collapse. Their power schemes, lack of scrutiny and paranoia will insure many of the wrong features remain.
Most Americans are blissfully unaware and ignorant to the dangers. They blindly go along because they have no conception of the power, extent and potential for abuse of rights and civil liberties. This current ‘blip on the radar’ may make them pause for 5 minutes and attempt to comprehend the ramifications. However, due to an extremely poor education system, a largely controlled and captive media conglomerate, the endless spin and propaganda of the left-right political machine, the population is headed down a dark, twisting highway with no headlights and no map.
In “The Citizen’s Last Stand: Are YOU Ready?” I make the case to have a long-overdue national debate and disclosure on this topic. It needs to happen in town halls, city councils, county commissions, state capitols and in Congress. Contrary to the naysayers it can be accomplished in a matter that protects national security, rights and civil liberties. It WILL NOT be accomplished keeping all of it cloaked iin secrecy and no public scrutiny under the false rubric of “national security” and the “Global War on Terror.” That false rubric will only result in further migration toward a totalitarian state. And, the pace quickens.