Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Twitter Message(s) Of The Day

Trevor Timm, perhaps best known as one of the founders of the Freedom Of The Press Foundation, on the decidedly contradictory messages we are hearing from our government regarding domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA):

Twitter message by @trevortimm June 26, 2013

As is her wont, Marcy Wheeler provided a pointed follow-up:

Twitter message by @emptywheel, June 26, 2013

In arguing with some morons about this issue over the last few days, it's gradually occurred to me that people don't have a clue what the NSA and the government have been up to all these years. Anyone who has read James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace, his expose of the NSA's activities during the Cold War, would not be terribly surprised at the latest revelations. The NSA has always been stretching both the limits of technology and legality in order to listen in on foreign governments' conversations.

Maybe the best example of this is the Rhyolite satellite program. As Wikipedia describes it:

Caption: Microwave relay interception. A Rhyolite satellite located at the right position in space can pick up stray signals from a ground microwave link.

A major purpose of the Rhyolite satellites was reportedly the interception of Soviet and Chinese microwave relay signals traffic. During the 1960s-70s, much of the long distance telephone and data traffic in both the US and Eastern Europe was carried by terrestrial microwave relay links, each consisting of a dish antenna on a microwave tower that transmitted a narrow beam of microwaves to a receiving dish in a nearby city. A good deal of the microwave beam would miss the receiving dish and, because of the curvature of the Earth, radiate out into space. By placing a satellite in a geosynchronous orbit at a position in the sky where it could intercept the beam, the US government was able to listen in on Soviet telephone calls and telex cables during the Cold War.[1]

Wikipedia: Aquacade (satellite)

This program began in the late 1960s, if you work back from the first reported launch date (January, 1970). Recall that the first communications satellites were launched only a decade or so earlier. The sheer audacity of this program, both from a technological perspective and an international relations point of view, is breathtaking. To spend the 1960s equivalent of billions of dollars to launch satellites into orbit to listen in on faint signals that were never intended to go anywhere near that far (geosynchronous orbit is 22,000 miles (35,000 km) above the Earth) would be a significant achievement by any standards. To keep it secret for so long (it wasn't revealed until the trial of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Lee for espionage in the mid-1970s), shows an amazing ability to keep secrets, even when a large number of people were clearly involved in the effort.

This is what the NSA does. It's what the NSA has always done, and continues to do. Anyone who can't imagine that this could be a problem if the NSA's gaze ever turned inward has no idea what it does, or has done, or is incapable of imagining things in any useful way.

UPDATE: I've fixed all the broken links I know about.

No comments: