AT&T Invents Programming Language for Mass Surveillance

October 31st, 2007

Please indulge me by re-reading this extended passage from Synthetic Environments for Analysis and Simulation:

Remember Russell Tice, the NSA SIGINT officer who had knowledge of a special access NSA operation that was so disturbing that he tried to tell the U.S. Congress about it?

What was Tice talking about here:

Tice said his information is different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts this week that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans. “It’s an angle that you haven’t heard about yet,” he said.

An angle that we haven’t heard about. Since everyone and his dog knows about the mass surveillance, what could that angle be?

More recently, Tice said that the NSA intercepts of civilian traffic is “the tip of the iceberg” and says, again, that there is something else, something we still don’t know about. Here’s part of the interview between Tice and Reason:

REASON: What prompted you to step forward now?

Tice: Well, I’ve known this for a long time and I’ve kept my mouth shut…

REASON: You’re referring to what James Risen calls “The Program,” the NSA wiretaps that have been reported on?

Tice: No, I’m referring to what I need to tell Congress that no one knows yet, which is only tertiarily connected to what you know about now.

Ok, so the outrage that Tice was willing to ruin his life over is only “tertiarily connected” to the operation we already new about.

Tice continues:

In my case, there’s no way the programs I want to talk to Congress about should be public ever, unless maybe in 200 years they want to declassify them. You should never learn about it; no one at the Times should ever learn about these things.

The surveillance side of this is the chickenfeed. There’s something far more sinister than the simple surveillance… an angle we haven’t heard about yet.

Tice never did tell his story to Congress about this different aspect of the program.

Well, my guess is that it has something to do with providing surveillance data for this SEAS World Sim thing, and that individual Americans are being watched and potentially targeted with it. Tice’s background seems to involve a lot of traditional electronic warfare, radar and ELINT stuff. Maybe Tice’s deal involved the collection of the mobile phone GPS and/or triangulation data which would provide realtime spacial/geographic data to the SEAS system. In other words, SEAS sees you. They could bring up a map of a city and plot your path based on the information that your phone is exchanging with the mobile network.

— End Excerpt —

In summary, my thesis was that the NSA operation that Tice was involved with was related to tracking individual Americans, on the ground, in real time, using the mobile phone networks.

Ok, now, Wired’s Threat Level just published a story about Hancock, an AT&T programming language that was designed for parsing large blocks of data for surveillance purposes. Within the context of my theory above—about the operation Tice was involved with—look at this:

Programs written in Hancock work by analyzing data as it flows into a data warehouse. That differentiates the language from traditional data-mining applications which tend to look for patterns in static databases. A 2004 paper published in ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems shows how Hancock code can sift calling card records, long distance calls, IP addresses and internet traffic dumps, and even track the physical movements of mobile phone customers as their signal moves from cell site to cell site.

All of these tidbits… It’s all the same operation. They have an unthinkable surveillance capability that includes all of your email, web, purchasing and telephone activity. And, if I’m right, they’re keeping track of where you are and where you’ve been. Oh yeah, wave at the birdy.

I know. It’s too incredible. Impossible, you might think.

What’s impossible is trying to grasp what the intelligence agencies did with $43.5 billion just in 2007. Yeah. Yeah. Incompetence. Inefficiency. Ripoffs. The usual $4000 toilet seat refrain. Fine. But if that’s your perspective, what’s your theory about the operation Tice was involved with?

They got something for the billions of dollars spent on this crap over the last several years and I’m pretty sure that it knows more about all of us than we can imagine.

There’s no way the programs I want to talk to Congress about should be public ever, unless maybe in 200 years they want to declassify them. You should never learn about it…

Via: Wired:

From the company that brought you the C programming language comes Hancock, a C variant developed by AT&T researchers to mine gigabytes of the company’s telephone and internet records for surveillance purposes.

An AT&T research paper published in 2001 and unearthed today by Andrew Appel at Freedom to Tinker shows how the phone company uses Hancock-coded software to crunch through tens of millions of long distance phone records a night to draw up what AT&T calls “communities of interest” — i.e., calling circles that show who is talking to whom.

The system was built in the late 1990s to develop marketing leads, and as a security tool to see if new customers called the same numbers as previously cut-off fraudsters — something the paper refers to as “guilt by association.”

But it’s of interest to THREAT LEVEL because of recent revelations that the FBI has been requesting “communities of interest” records from phone companies under the USA PATRIOT Act without a warrant. Where the bureau got the idea that phone companies collect such data has, until now, been a mystery.

According to a letter from Verizon to a congressional committee earlier this month, the FBI has been asking Verizon for “community of interest” records on some of its customers out to two generations — i.e., not just the people that communicated with an FBI target, but also those who talked to people who talked to an FBI target. Verizon, though, doesn’t create those records and couldn’t comply. Now it appears that AT&T invented the concept and the technology. It even owns a patent on some of its data mining methods, issued to two of Hancock’s creators in 2002.

Programs written in Hancock work by analyzing data as it flows into a data warehouse. That differentiates the language from traditional data-mining applications which tend to look for patterns in static databases. A 2004 paper published in ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems shows how Hancock code can sift calling card records, long distance calls, IP addresses and internet traffic dumps, and even track the physical movements of mobile phone customers as their signal moves from cell site to cell site.

With Hancock, “analysts could store sufficiently precise information to enable new applications previously thought to be infeasible,” the program authors wrote.

10 Responses to “AT&T Invents Programming Language for Mass Surveillance”

  1. anothernut Says:

    “They got something for the billions of dollars spent on this crap over the last several years and I’m pretty sure that it knows more about all of us than we can imagine.”

    Most of us reading your post, I would guess, agree. But the scariest thing isn’t that Americans in general think, “I don’t care, I’m a good citizen, I have nothing to hide”. The scariest thing is that, thru “natural” selection (based on the less-likelihood of authority-questioners reproducing), soon (a few generations or so) the very idea that being tracked 24/7 by big brother could be a bad thing will be wiped out of human consciousness entirely. If things keep going the way the are, that is.

  2. rototillerman Says:

    I’ll give you an alternative scenario, Kevin. What if the data collection isn’t done solely at the servers and nodes of the internet… what if it is done on the PCs themselves? Security researchers are grappling with an enormously effective and well-written Windows worm now in the wild called Storm. Read this eweek.com story for some flavor of how evil this is:

    http://tinyurl.com/28g2gt

    It’s the latest evidence of why Storm is “the scariest and most substantial threat” security researchers have ever seen, he said. Storm is patient, it’s resilient, it’s adaptive in that it can defeat anti-virus products in multiple ways (programmatically, it changes its signature every 30 minutes), it’s invisible because it comes with a rootkit built in and hides at the kernel level, and it’s clever enough to change every few weeks… What really has his clients worried, though, is what Storm hasn’t yet done, Corman said, with the exception of small hits such as that against SecureWorks or other researchers—ransom sites with DDoS.

    OK, this is not some guy in a trailer in Iowa making $80k per year selling ads to pr0n vendors, as reported in one NYT story a year or two back. Someone, or more likely some organization, has gone to significant time and effort and money to create the most effective worm in the history of computing… and they’re not doing anything with it yet. It’s been out for months; where’s the business plan? Who has that kind of money, and can mount that kind of ongoing effort? Two words for you: state-sponsored. The question is, what state? Given what Tice knows, my money is on home-grown.

  3. Druff Says:

    This is great info. However, I originally thought you were going to take it farther than you did. With such quotes from Tice:

    “It’s an angle that you haven’t heard about yet”

    and

    “..only tertiarily connected to what you know about now”

    and your quote: “There’s something far more sinister than the simple surveillance”

    I was expecting a conclusion more shocking than what seems like just much BETTER and more invasive surveillance, which hardly seems like an entirely new “angle” or only “tertiarily” connected to the program we already know about. I’m having trouble trying to think of a better conclusion though, without venturing into heavy tinfoil territory.

  4. kristofer Says:

    im not sure druff….. knowing im being tracked and monitored everywhere i go, and everything i say is a little scary to me.

  5. dale Says:

    God damn Kevin, nice work. This isn’t about the insidious and exponential growth of surveillance; that’s just one facet…

  6. Druff Says:

    kristofer: I agree it’s scary, but I guess I’d just be kind of surprised if this type of surveillance hasn’t already been in operation for years. But Kevin’s info certainly helps flesh out the full picture and viability of such operations.

  7. Bohemian Grover Says:

    As its been stated, the omniscient surveillance machine the globalists have implemented will be used in every single way possible to eliminate competition and resistance. We all have imaginations, I think we can see endless ways these technologies can and will be used against any organic resistance.

    My favorite nightmare is the ability to selectively “steal” the identity of a target individual, destroy their credit and disappear their assets overnight. Seems random right, we all know this is done by the teen-age hacker in Miami right? It couldn’t be a salaried intelligence officer’s side-project right?

    And then of course they can simply create Lists of individuals that must be collected at some point and detained indefinitely for national security reasons (their political viewpoints or activism), which were archived and cross referenced from every communication medium they’ve ever used.

    Our kontrollers are sitting on a gigantic pile of data, too much data. They can peer into this abyss, but once they start acting on it we will be able to peer back inside of them and see their true motives. At that point, it will be clear to everyone that they’re not after the truth. They’re after you.

  8. Dennis Says:

    Seems to fit in nicely with http://cryptogon.com/?p=956 and http://cryptogon.com/?p=1549

    Behaviour prediction or persoality profiling on the basis of known information. Is this person now or are they ever likely to counter or disrupt the soporific influence of the empire on the unknowing masses? Do they threaten control?

  9. Eileen Says:

    What the hell would you want to hide from Congress for 200 years? Brings many thoughts to mind but sheesh.What the eff are they doing?
    I’ve read that you can put your cell phone in a can and it blocks a person being tracked. Yuh, sounds goofy. But I’m going to start doing it.
    Maybe I should wrap tin foil around my head too.
    Seriously, I keep my blinds shut at night. Don’t want one of those weird dragonfly’s fluttering around outside my window!!!

  10. Eileen Says:

    Oh and I forgot.
    Verizon, AT&T and the rest of these participants in data mining our phone records are going to be dumped by yours truly.
    I’ve dumped the Verizon cell phone – yall can kiss my ass you snoops. Looking for a local provider of a land line is uh, the next great adventure.

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