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NSA Chief Speaks At Black Hat

After Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden and Congressional push back, NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander speaks to Black Hat, a conference for security professionals.

The gusher of news on the NSA and surveillance keeps coming. This week, one of the keenest audiences is in Las Vegas: hackers and security geeks and execs. Lots of them. At the conferences called Black Hat and DEF CON, where hacker T-shirts say “Hack Naked” and “Stay Anonymous.”

The NSA needs these people. They are the talent, the American cyber pros.

While hearings in Washington banged on the NSA and more news was leaked, the head of the NSA came to Vegas to appeal to the pros.

Up next On Point: NSA surveillance and the hacker perspective.

– Tom Ashbrook


Kim Zetter, senior reporter for Wired covering cybercrime, civil liberties, privacy and security. (@KimZetter)

Alan Butler, privacy advocate and attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. (@AlanInDC)

Moxie Marlinspike, computer security researcher and co-founder and former chief technology officer for Whisper Systems, which provides mobile apps for security and privacy. (@moxie)

Interview Highlights

Moxie Marlinspike on balancing freedom and privacy:

People tend to try and frame this in terms of a balance between freedom and privacy, to the extent that that’s true. I think the problem is that people like the NSA are not incentivized to be looking for that balance. They are working on things that are built out of careers, billions in revenue, enormous defense contracts. It’s this giant steam roller that is not actually looking for balance.

Alan Butler on the Senate FISA hearing:

What we’re dealing with in the Senate hearing [on July 31, 2013] … is that Congressional leaders are shocked at the extent of this program, specifically the metadata program. And that’s a sign that we don’t have enough push back, that we don’t have enough public knowledge about how these systems work in order to make sure that they’re complying with the law and to make sure we can keep them in check.

Kelly Zetter on company push back and transparency of the courts:

There’s a danger in lumping all companies together. There are companies that are not bothered by this at all and take the view that they need to help the NSA protect the country.

But I think that there are some significant companies (particularly technology companies) that have tried to fight and push back. We don’t know the full extent of these activities.

We had an interesting peek at this recently with some documents that came out regarding Yahoo. Yahoo had attempted to fight a court order back in 2008 seeking collection of data. They cited the Fourth Amendment; they cited a number of issues. And in that case, the judge forced Yahoo to comply … the judge said that the government had assured her that it would not maintain a database of incidentally collected info from non-targeted U.S. persons. In fact, we now know that’s not true. And the XKeystore talks about this database of information that of course is going to include incidentally collected information on Americans.

This goes to speak to the transparency of the courts. We don’t know full extent of what has gone on there. We don’t know how many companies have tried to fight this. We know that they’ve been unsuccessful. I believe that there are companies that are pushing back, but we just don’t know the extent of this because this is all secret.

Marlinspike on the changing way hackers fit into society:

It’s not clear what our cultural norms really are. In some ways, I think we are operating based on a cultural context in the ’90s or whenever the hacker community really coalesced. And that context has changed. I think it’s time for us to re-evaluate. What are the things that we value? What are the things that we want to encourage?

Marlinspike on hackers selling security vulnerabilities:

Hackers and people from this community do a tremendous amount of security research and publish their results, which oftentimes allows those vulnerabilities to be addressed. At the same time, however, there are many people now who have started selling their security research in private. So, for instance, there are people that find vulnerabilities in things like your cell phone or programs that run on your computer or the servers of major web providers. And instead of publicly disclosing them or working with the vendors to fix them, they sell that information to brokers for a lot of money. And, for the most part, those are then turned around and sold to governments … the people selling the vulnerabilities usually don’t have the visibility as to where they go. In all cases, they’re used in the same way, generally offensively by governments in order to gain access to people’s computers, the servers of major providers and things like that.


“Top federal security chiefs from the NSA, FBI, Office of National Intelligence and the Justice Department go before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the FISA surveillance program. A legal panel also testifies on constitutional protections.”

From Tom’s Reading List

Wired: Buffeted By New Disclosures, NSA Chief Defends Surveillance Programs At Black Hat: “Facing occasional hecklers from the audience, Alexander asserted that the surveillance programs have been mischaracterized by the media and others and that as a result the reputation of NSA workers has been tarnished. Extensive oversight from Congress and the courts, as well as technical protections in place — including internal auditing — prevent NSA workers from abusing their surveillance capabilities.”

PC Magazine: Black Hat 2013: NSA Chief Reveals Details About PRISM As Hecklers Call Him a Liar: “The Section 215 Authority, the business records program, collects only telephone metadata and is used only for counterterrorism purposes, Alexander said. The NSA collects the data and time of the call, the phone number initiating the call and the number of the recipient, the duration of the call, and the source and site of the call—such as carrier name. The NSA does “not collect the content of the communications,” such as recording the calls or intercepting the SMS messages. Identifying information such as names, addresses, or credit card information, are not collected. Location data is also not used.”

Slate: One Major Hacker Conference Bans The Feds. Another Welcomes Them: “Two of the largest, most well-known information security conventions, DEF CON and Black Hat, have decided to take very different approaches to how they will interact with representatives of federal agencies (who, in the past, have regularly attended and spoken at these events) … The difference in opinions about socializing with feds can, in large part, be tallied up to economics.”

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    Not to be trusted again. Zero credibility. Subversive traitors.

    • Don_B1

      Who are not to be trusted?

  • SteveTheTeacher

    Mephistopheles soliciting at DEF CON again.

    Did he come wearing his traditional black tee and jeans this year?

    How do they get rid of the stench of Brimstone?

    • Don_B1

      Please distinguish between James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who apologized for lying to Congress and Keith Alexander, NSA Chief.

  • Yar

    It was a sales pitch, come work for us, we already know who you are.

  • responseTwo

    * Paul Wolfowitz: “The invasion of Iraq will have 30,000 troops in 6 months and cost well under 50 billion dollars”.
    * “There are weapons of mass destruction” – “We were all wrong”
    * George Bush: “The terrorists are on the run” – Iraq is currently riddled with terrorist bombings.

    The people who grab power in this country have no credibility. When this guy talks, how can they expect to be taken seriously?

    • William

      Iraq Liberation Act – Bill Clinton.

      I agree. People in power, both parties have a long history of not telling the truth.

      • Prairie_W

        Funny thing is, though, we elect them…

      • Ray in VT

        and how many troops did he send into Iraq?

        • HonestDebate1

          He bombed an aspirin factory the day Monica testified.

          There were 7500 military deaths under Clinton… in peacetime.

          • Ray in VT

            I’m sure that it was totally a scheme to draw attention away from the GOP’s BJ witch hunt.

            7500 military deaths. Wow. That’s a lot. Care to provide details as to how many of those were combat related deaths as compared to accidents, illness and suicides, because I’m sure that those things never happened during Bush’s years.

        • William

          Why did he pass it? What was is logic or end game?

          • Ray in VT

            He did not pass it. He signed it. Much of the act called for ways in which to support democratic opposition, and it said : “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of United States Armed Forces (except as provided in section 4(a)(2)) in carrying out this Act.”

          • William

            He signed it, just like welfare reform. He owns it. He was dumb just like JFK and LBJ.

          • Ray in VT

            So 0? That is zero? He committed zero troops to invading Iraq, right? Which President was it that did send them in. Who owns that?

          • William

            He was no dummy and set us on a path to war. Just like JFK did in Vietnam.

          • Ray in VT

            I think that he was pretty smart, despite some of his personal and policy failures, but I think that we should blame George H.W. Bush for putting us on the path to war by not toppling Saddam in 1991, or maybe it was Reagan who was the dummy responsible because his administration supported Saddam while he was gassing people in the 1980s. Probably, though, it was the guy who made the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

    • brettearle

      Because, otherwise, we’ll be crying wolf ON OURSELVES.

      We can’t be skeptical about EVERYTHING.

      Sometimes–certainly not always–we’re getting the straight talk.

      You have to treat each incident, independently, and to use the best information and judgement possible–BEFORE you write everything off.

      The Negative Obsessives among us–the cynics and the pessimists–don’t `need’ to believe that.

      • Don_B1

        Everyone can be skeptical about any statement from anyone, until they have a chance to evaluate it. What no one should expect is that every statement from anyone is always false.

        It is just often harder to verify the statements from people who have not told the truth in the past.

        • brettearle

          I agree.

          But many individuals’ s**t detectors are up much too high–no matter WHAT they hear.

  • alsordi

    To be sure, the Feds attempt to infiltrate them and assemble dossiers on anyone who walks through the doors of the conference.
    Real patriotism is to distrust government.

  • AC

    i spoke to a friend who is an open source programmer & they said people are over-reacting …

    • SteveTheTeacher

      How reassuring!

      Just about as reassuring as the testimony of the NSA deputy director that ONE terrorist attempt was defeated by the surveillance program – that is, after the British informed us about it.

      • AC

        i find this finger pointing useless, & having spoken to my firend (who is swedish & not even american), i’m still of the mind this ‘hype’ is totally useless.
        it’s just easy for you to point at the govt but apparently, they are not the only ‘interest’ that’s doing it. it would seem there are lots of dirty hands playing this game.
        so. what’s your big plan now? point harder? or are you an algorithmic genius in hiding here on disqus?
        we could always go back to killing trees using paper….., driving horses….wearing tin foil hats so ‘they’ can’t read our minds…

        • keltcrusader

          I agree with your friend AC. I am surprised at how many people think they are of any importance to have their emails read or phone calls monitored. Puffed up sense of self-importance, I guess. The type of data they are collecting doesn’t even have the type of detail they think it does. Get over it folks, you aren’t that special.
          I’m more concerned that people who are not “friends” of the US (countries and/or groups) now know just what type of survelliance we have been using and will find new ways to get around it. For all the uproar from other countries, to think they aren’t doing the same thing as we were is just naive. We are living in a new age, get used to it.

          • J__o__h__n

            So “you aren’t important as you think you are” is the new “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about” response to government intrusions into privacy?

          • keltcrusader

            No, I just think people are getting all ” they are reading my personal emails” when that isn’t even close to what is happening.

          • brettearle

            The issue of Privacy can be defined as Far-reaching.

            It is a fundamental Right of the US Democracy.

            It is a question of how much can be relaxed when a group, or country, is under actual, or serious, threat.

          • Don_B1

            While I agree with you and AC in general, if our elected representatives generate embarrassing e-mails, they are open to blackmail to do things not in the general interest.

          • keltcrusader

            I agree with you there Don_B1, but I think the issue with the NSA is a different animal in this respect. By the way, I really enjoy your posts! :)

          • AC

            i agree – they should know what era they live in, for gods sake, don’t send out embarrassing email/tweets/posts/comments!!!!

          • J__o__h__n

            What if you disguise them by using a fake name like Carlos Danger?

          • keltcrusader

            well then, that just makes it a-ok ;)

        • SteveTheTeacher

          What AC labels “hype,” many others view as providing the framework for digression into fascism.

          Wolfgang Schmidt, a former lieutenant colonel in the East German Stasi noted: ‘You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true. So much information, on so many people.”

          Over forty years ago, Senator Frank Church noted: “That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to
          monitor everything. Telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t
          matter. There would be no place to hide.

          If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the
          government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.”

          Feel safe now because President Obama has constitutional law background, won the Nobel peace prize, and, despite killing a few several hundred innocent civilians with drone strikes, is a nice guy?

          How safe will you feel under with these same powers held by a President Christie or a President Rubio? DON”T get on their bad sides.

          As Dr. Martin Luther King noted –

          “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was
          “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was

          What should be done now?

          As the middle and lower classes in this country struggle, the military/surveillance industry is making money hand over fist. How about refusing to believe the military/surveillance industry’s hype designed to instill fear of the other.

          The billions spent on the NSA would be much better spent in working to build bonds between the people of the US and those who, as a result of poverty, repression, and/or US military actions.

          • AC

            You’re missing the point, deliberately? Are you or are you not a programmer? Are you able to protect yourself by reading and writing rapid algorithms? No? then why are you pretending it is only the ‘govt’ and then only the ‘US govt’ using this tech?
            I think maybe it could be a good thing, everybody’s spying on everyone. It will usher in our evolution to a more open, global society. Plus what is so private that needs to be so hidden? Seriously? I’m totally confused by this concept – well, unless you don’t want anyone to know you’re watching child porn online or something? There are 7 billion human beings to watch, what’s so interesting about you that needs to be hidden?

          • SteveTheTeacher

            Nice Straw Man diversion by AC.

            The fact that many private individuals, corporations, and other governments can also spy does not mitigate the dangers of US government’s universal surveillance.

            What puts people, in the US and abroad, at risk is the fact that US government officials can harness the power of the world’s foremost superpower to manipulate the vast data they collect in order to craft a case that an individual or group is an “enemy.” These government officials can launch harsh abusive action against these enemies.

            Perhaps AC, and those who express this level of naïveté, are ignorant of the history of the US government’s repressive and murderous actions against domestic “enemies.”

            Many people of color still remember how the US government used the COINTELPRO program to target and kill members of the Black civil rights, Puerto Rican independence, Chicano rights, and American Indian movements.

          • AC

            maybe you should travel more….i think you are kind of lost in some truth, some rhetoric. what youre talking about is 40 years ago…many people of color are programmers themselves now. (well, i know of 4 directly that are friends, i don’t have any statistical breakdown)

          • SteveTheTeacher

            More masterful rhetoric from AC: Why learn from history? The fact that something happened in the past – FBI repression of activists of color – means that it can never happen again. Hey, why learn about the Nazi manipulation of the German population to support attacks on Jews? Fascist practice can never return.

            In the COINTELPRO era, a common justification for government repression/murder went like this: If the government targeted these people, then they must have deserved to be targeted.

            What about the present day government repression/targeting of Puerto Rican independence activists, Arabs or Arab-looking people, and social justice activists? The NSA’s operations make such repression so much easier.

            Oh, and the fact that AC works with 4 programmers of color clearly trumps the concerns of local and national organizations of people or color. The fact that there are scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and professors of color are so under-represented in the US clearly has nothing to do with structural barriers to achievement, particularly in STEM. No doubt Richard Herrnstein and Ayn Rand are in agreement from their graves.

          • AC

            um. it’s just you & me here, people have moved on. also, it’s not ‘a fact’ that i work w/them (because i don’t), they’re my friends. also, i am an engineer, & i volunteer A LOT of time promoting STEM in schools & judging at science fairs. i’ve also been a special speaker at clubs like Girls, Inc. what do you do for underserved kids that helps steer them into a brighter future? in any case, i belong to a club of futurists, we never forget history, we’re consciously choosing to not harp on it because the past shows our stupidity .+ we want to force the world to be open. since we have the know-how, we’re valid players in the game. what can you contribute to this concept & why aren’t you?

    • TyroneJ

      I’m a Computer Scientist who developed one of the first pieces of “tracking software” in existence 20 years ago. Does that make my political opinion trump that of your friend who is an “open source programmer” (a meaningless term in CS)?

      The bottom line is that the NSA system makes any of the abuses of the Soviet Union, East German Stazi, or even today’s North Korean government, look like nothing. And for what? To prevent another “911″, whose death toll was equal to about a month’s worth of auto accident fatalities, and property damage dollar value was equal to that of an average Quarter’s weather related damage? Too much is given away for too little gain.

      • AC

        yes, i’m sorry. 20 years ago is quite a bit in IT. + to pretend other countries/corps/entitities are innocent of this available tech is stupid to me. adjust accordingly. here’s the next wave.
        maybe you’ll be able to protect yourself a little better than most, i guess it depends on your skill level with algorithms

  • Shag_Wevera

    Officer Squarenuts says we shouldn’t hack anymore…

  • creaker

    I haven’t heard any claims that the NSA forced corporations to collect any data they weren’t already collecting – they just forced them to share. It’s likely that the NSA is only taking and keeping a small subset of the total information being kept by private sources.

    Eventually, I expect we’ll see a diminished role by the NSA – corporations will get huge government contracts to sift through their own data and just sell the interesting bits to the NSA.

    • brettearle

      Are you saying that corporations were legally able to collect data that the NSA, legally, could not?

      • creaker

        Of course – your cell phone co. , for example, knows all your calls, texts, which towers your cell phone was using and when, etc. You’ve given them permission to collect this information when you purchased their product. Any corporation you financially interact with has all those records, calls you made to them (“this call may be recorded for training purposes”). Sales uses any information it can get its hands on to see if they can improve sales. Endless amounts of information.

        Do you think NSA made all these corps spend billions in infrastructure to collect this stuff? They already had it.

        • AC

          strange how some people don’t realize this!

          • brettearle

            You mean, realize what I pointed out, or something else?

          • AC

            no creaker’s point. i just assumed evryone knew that, but it seems they’re surprised…

          • brettearle

            His point (I think) was that corporation can retrieve information that government cannot.

            And, ultimately, I don’t believe that this is true.

            If the government wants it enough, they can get it–even if it’s from the press….in that case, if it’s (can be proven to be, in retrospect) a national emergency.

          • AC

            oh it’s true – i know someone who does it. & it’s not always a corporation. it can be a hacker/sect based on sheer exhileration or even crime. & they’ll do it for a corporation for $$.
            infact, my mum’s FB account just posted false links disguised as pics that all went to Zoosk dating site. tell me Zoosk didn’t know about it, or why would some russian (the traced acct that hacked her) care if zoosk is successful?

          • creaker

            You need to ask “retrieve information from where?”. You can’t retrieve information that has not already been collected.

          • jimino

            The Constitution does not protect you from intrusive behavior by private entities, only by those involving “state action”.

            And who actually reads those terms and conditions attached to internet use before clicking “accept”?

          • brettearle

            Generally, I deplore, for the most part, what we have learned through Snowden’s disclosures.

            However, I am speaking of the Government’s theoretical retrieval power.

            Ultimately, the Government can get what it wants–covertly or legally.

        • brettearle

          The police can access that, legally.
          So can the NSA.

    • Don_B1

      Apparently they are holding it for longer periods than the communications companies want to on their own. They collect the phone data for billing purposes and do not need it for five years, etc.

  • William

    The NSA is great at collecting data but poor at getting useable data to people that need it. It is more of a reactive agency than proactive one.

  • creaker

    My concern here is that the “threats” the government seems to be more preoccupied with those critical of the government and its policies and the corporations that lobby them than they are with the “evil forces” they are supposedly protecting us from.

    • brettearle

      Demonization and Circling the Wagons are common phenomena, when a group is under threat or attack–regardless of who the group is, how large it is, and what it is comprised of.

  • Potter

    We seem to have gone off the deep end since 9/11, killing more people (us and them) making enemies and severely altering our concept of privacy. All this in the name of “freedom”. Osama Bin Laden accomplished a lot. Obama has followed George W Bush, taking us right off the cliff.

    “Big busines” Tom says. Right.

    • brettearle

      OBL said we were vulnerable and he was right–based on your claim, above…..which I agree with, to some extent.

  • monicaroland

    I’m confused about the term “hackers” as used for people at the convention. Are these illegal hackers? Or security professionals who go after hackers to protect their websites?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      As well you should be re “hacker”.

      Strictly, a hacker is “someone who takes things apart to see how they work”,

      A “cracker” is the more malevolent meaning of the term.

      The different uses of “hacker” has almost thrown the word into meaninglessness.

      (At different times, a person may wear either “hat”.)

      • monicaroland

        Thank you. Never heard these distinctions. I always thought that “hacker” meant someone operating illegally.

  • Potter

    What “we have coming at us”– do we bring that on???

  • creaker

    How about the increasing use of license plate readers? Although this is local level data collection I expect this will end up in NSA’s hands as well.

    But I expect they’ll reassure us that they only read the license plates of foreign terrorists.

    • brettearle

      The license plate retrieval, by police, is absolutely outrageous.

      I do not understand why it’s not being challenged by ACLU. Maybe it is.

  • Yar

    What about using the records collected by the NSA to look at the records of people like Steven Cohen?

  • J__o__h__n

    There is no such thing as total safety either.

  • David Whitlock

    Alexander’s speech was completely disingenuous. The Federal Government is about top-down power for top-down control. The only rule of top-down power is “if you can’t control it, you must destroy it”.

    That is what the NSA and the Federal Government is about. That is what the hounding of Aaron Swartz until he killed himself was about. That is what the torturing of Bradley Manning was about.

    What are GOP controlled states doing right now? Gerrymandering and putting in voter ID and voter registration restrictions to limit who can vote to increase GOP power beyond what the voters want?

    Top-down control requires single-point top-down control. That allows for single-point failure.

    Maybe the current POTUS can be trusted with this power. There certainly are a great many individuals who cannot be so trusted. What would Issa do with this power? He is falsely claiming that Obama sicked the IRS on Tea Party Organizations. What that tells me is that if he had the power he would used it to crush any non-conservative group, like Acorn, like Planned Parenthood, like the ACLU.

    Top down control of the internet means the internet will have single-point control and so can have single-point failure.

    The largest threats to the country are not from hackers, or even terrorists, they are from Wall Street, from too big to fail, from AGW, from the fossil fuel industry preventing responsible mitigation of AGW.

    The FBI released FOI documents with a REDACTED group offering to use snipers to take out the leadership of Occupy Wall Street. Was anyone prosecuted for that? Was anyone prosecuted for the Financial collapse? Yet it was considered legitimate to hound Aaron Swartz until he killed himself.

    Where was the NSA in the buildup to the Iraq War? Why didn’t anyone at the NSA blow the whistle on the bogus claims of WMD in Iraq? Why did we have to spend $2+ trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives on a lie?

    There are drum beats for war with Iran now. Where is the NSA on that?

  • Potter

    The arguments that go “hey we need this” and “this is okay” are astonishing to me.The “world of threats” to ourselves in the meantime we participate in: we have something to do with why. We bring it on.

  • PeterBoyle

    With a dysfunctional Congress, a weak and ineffective President and no real oversight left, what can we expect from NSA? Of course ‘they’ want to know everything and will lie to anyone to get what they think gives them power. It is up to the ‘Hacker’ community to draw the line if they are truly Patriots. But if the Hacker Community sells out, there is little hope for freedom left. It is up to the Hackers to take down these people because Congress won’t and the People have no power.

  • Dave Bevis

    Bradley Manning And Edward Snowden did this country a favor if only in the fact that they exposed how vulnerable and insecure the NSA and other government data is. For those that argue that the NSA does not care about our data and are only looking for terrorist activity, even if you believe that, the fact that a low level analyst or low level soldier can access what they did should prove to you that this data will be available to so many people who may care about your information.

  • Scott B

    While I am glad that the BS the NSA is pulling has come out, this is the problem when you have private companies doing the job, and at a bigger cost, that government employees used to do; government employees that were vetted. I don’t think the NSA has any high school dropouts working for them, let alone without the serious background and personality profile checks that would be required for their hire, let alone that kind of clearance level.

    That being said, the Obama admin has gone after whistle-blowers with a vengeance that’s contrary to the interests of itself, the government, and US citizens.

    One security worker found small program that was working and done very cost-effectively, while other programs were bloated failures, and prosecuted him and ended the program that worked. Only in this America, folks!

    It’s very amusing watching how the info Snowden has is being leaked: Something’s leaked, the NSA, et al, deny or spin it, then some more info is released that shows that the denials and spin are all bull$h!t, and the cycle repeats itself.

  • TyroneJ

    If Congress really cared about upholding the US Constitution, NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander would be up on charges of perjury for lying to Congress under oath.

    When Gen. Keith Alexander entered the US Military, he took an oath to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”. Gen. Keith Alexander clearly has violated that oath.

    • J__o__h__n

      He only lies under oath when it is our best interest. Don’t you trust him?

    • alsordi

      History may very well treat Snowden and Manning like amazing heroes.

  • truegangsteroflove

    Let’s not forget where this began, or at least kicked into high gear. The attacks on September 11, 2001 provided the cover that enabled the “Patriot” Act, which in turn enabled the flow of billions of dollars to the national security state. Trillions, if you count the waging of gratuitous war. The attacks themselves were enabled by the active negligence of the Bush regime, which conveniently looked the other way at every turn. The attacks were portrayed as the work of evil geniuses, but could easily have been stopped with due diligence.

    Since then, numerous “cells” of “terrorists” have been “intercepted,” by our national security state, and in almost every case, if not every one, these “cells” were organized by the FBI. So much for the national security state keeping us “safe.” The real “cell,” consisting of the two Tsarnaev brothers, went completely ignored, in spite of warnings.

    Still, the money flows, and the spying intensifies. At some point we might ask what the benefit actually is compared with money spent on other efforts to keep us “safe.” Terrorism is not among the leading causes of death in this country (http://www.policymic.com/articles/24365/9-leading-causes-of-death-in-the-united-states), yet hardly any money is spent on other threats. Thousands are killed every year by distracted drivers, impaired drivers, inattentive drivers, preventable medical errors, home accidents, drownings and even lightning strikes. Where’s the money to prevent these deaths?

    Since “911″ $7.6 trillion has been spent on the national security state. I believe the evidence is clear that the national security state is for itself, not for the American people. “Keeping us safe” is the least of their concerns. Their concern, singular, is for themselves. There’s money to be made, privilege to be secured, power to be accumulated, prestige to be garnered, and security to be protected – all for themselves. The very nature of a secret security state ensures all these things for those on the inside of this apparatus.

    Given this context, is there a good reason that we should trust them? Only if you are an “insider,” someone who stands to gain by riding the gravy train of security dollars. For the rest of us, we get the illusion of “safety.”

    Given this context, is there a good reason that we should trust them? Only if you are an “insider,” someone who stands to gain by riding the gravy train of security dollars. For the rest of us, we get the illusion of “safety.” It is the safety of the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation: Resistance is futile; assimilation is inevitable (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borg_%28Star_Trek%29).

    • David Whitlock

      The money isn’t being spent to keep people “safe”, it is being spent for security theater to keep people rich and in power.

    • tbphkm33

      It is scary when you reflect back and realize how much the U.S. has been transformed into a para-militarized security state. Yet, people buy it as the price that has to be paid. The ignorance of the masses.

    • arydberg

      The memories of 3,000 people have been sullied by not even trying to ferrite out the truth about what really happened that day. Outrageous.

  • David Whitlock

    No part of government has the authority to circumvent the Constitution, secretly or otherwise.

  • tbphkm33

    There is a very simple way to counter the NSA spying and it requires less than 1% of us to participate. All YOU have to do is start planting key words in e-mails and text messages. This will create false positives, that computers cannot discern as false positives and requires a human operator to verify. End result is that the hundreds of billion dollar NSA (and the 17 other U.S. espionage agencies) electronic spy network is rendered impotent. Their only choice would be to go the road of the East German Stasi and employ half of the population to spy on the other half.

    You can easily come up with keywords or look them up online. What you want is between 5 and 7 words; fewer or more the computers will not flag the message for human followup. Send them randomly as text messages or even include as a signature feature in your e-mail. Does not take much. Plus the satisfaction of thinking about frustrated NSA para-military screaming at their computer screens when they see yet another chili recipe with keywords spread within to force the false positive.

    I like that less than 1% of the population can bring the trillion dollar spy effort to its knees. More government waste.

    • David Whitlock

      There are already more false positives than the NSA and government can handle. Handling true positives (actual real terrorist threats) is not the goal. How many true positives have been detected? A dozen maybe? How many true positives have been missed?

      • tbphkm33

        You are absolutely right, my contention is that this is a government boondoggle, a tremendous waste of resources. Jumping on the bandwagon that electronics can save the day – its modern, its sexy, its the thing to do.

        Reality is that any terrorist worth their salt already know not to communicate in the ways that the NSA is monitoring. Its not rocket science. Osama bin Ladin was famous for allowing no electronic communication.

        No, defense against terrorism requires hard traditional intelligence gathering work. Infiltration, monitoring world news events, sharing information between state actors. At the end of the day, it requires diplomacy and getting to the hart of matter as to why terrorists place the U.S. in their sights – and that is not as simple as saying that all Muslims hate America. Remember Timothy McWay was a home grown terrorist.

    • cave_sc0rpion

      Or you can script something that will do exactly that but in serious volume.

  • hennorama

    This is a bit off topic, but only slightly.

    At the end of the movie ‘The Gatekeepers’, Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet (an Israeli counter-espionage and counter-terrorism entity) said this:

    “The tragedy of Israel’s public security debate is that we don’t realize that we face a frustrating situation in which we win every battle but we lose the war.”

    It’s difficult not to substitute “America” in place of “Israel” in that statement.

  • andic_epipedon

    To the caller who talked about the general holding out an olive branch and asking for the Black Hat’s help making the system better:

    The general intentionally framed the question so that no one would be able to ask should we be doing this at all? And that makes it impossible to work with him when this is the first issue that needs to be addressed.

  • fun bobby

    “Who is Spain?
    Why is Hitler?
    Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?”

  • orwelllutz

    I wonder of I might interrupt a moment to ask this community if they could create the system necessary to make computer based voting a reality. Could it be truly secure and credible?

    Can you envision the ability to propose a re-written constitution that will allow the citizens to decide, not X number of self-serving state legislatures ?

    With a few iterations, I believe “we” could do a re-write that will fix a whole lot of stuff. But you need to make distributing it and voting on it possible. Then all we’d need is our military to protect the process

    This is a serious question from a civilian

    • Wm_James_from_Missouri

      You have asked an important question that the world will be facing soon. In general the question is, ‘ is it possible to build a fail safe secure (network) voting system. With some (maybe, kinda-sorta,)possible exceptions, I say NO. Although, it seems that there are coding methods that are “unbreakable” in our immediate time, I believe that there is no such thing as an unbreakable code, or an unbreakable “code maker”. Sure programs can be written that are seemingly impossible to “break”. Take a “one time pad“, for example. If done correctly, you won’t be able to decrypt this code. But imagine that you could see what that person used for a code word, then you could. Simple example, but I think it illustrates my point.

    • ExcellentNews

      Even if you had the perfect e-voting system, the corporate oligarchs can still muddle the minds of the people with few well-targeted political ads and smear campaigns. Pssst – have YOU seen Obama’s birth certificate ???

  • ExcellentNews

    In this day and age of engineered mass confusion, it is not surprising that we spend our time discussing HOW to fight our enemies, but we hardly ever ask WHO they are…

    So let’s look at who has hurt the people our Constitution talks about. True, Muslim terrorists killed nearly 5000 Americans. They deserve at least the NSA keeping an eye on them. But these casualties are just a day’s worth of work for our tobacco cartels, and an hour worth of work for our processed junk food industry.

    No foreign enemy has hurt the people (or at least 99% of them…) as much as our own glorified job-outsourcing, technology-exporting, labor-crushing CEOs. Or their predatory banker pals. Or our highest-bidder corporate shills in Congress. Or PACS with patriotic names that front for Saudi sultans and Chinese industrialists.

    Why is the NSA not keeping tabs on them?

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 20, 2014
In this Oct. 21, 2013 file photo, a monarch butterfly lands on a confetti lantana plant in San Antonio. A half-century ago Monarch butterflies, tired, hungry and bursting to lay eggs, found plenty of nourishment flying across Texas. Native white-flowering balls of antelope milkweed covered grasslands, growing alongside nectar-filled wildflowers. But now, these orange-and-black winged butterflies find mostly buildings, manicured lawns and toxic, pesticide-filled plants. (AP)

This year’s monarch butterfly migration is the smallest ever recorded. We’ll ask why. It’s a big story. Plus: how climate change is creating new hybridized species.

Aug 20, 2014
A man holds his hands up in the street after a standoff with police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

A deep read on Ferguson, Missouri and what we’re seeing about race, class, hope and fear in America.

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