The Secret Sharer

May 17th, 2011

Yet again, we learn that there was a desire to generate dossiers on people that, besides the Internet, financial transactions and telephone surveillance data, included physical tracking information.

Bill Binney, the NSA employee who led the team that created the ThinThread system (described below), also alleges that all email “transmitted in America” is archived and keyword searchable.

Via: The New Yorker:

As Binney imagined it, ThinThread would correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, G.P.S. equipment, and any other “attributes” that an analyst might find useful in pinpointing “the bad guys.” By 2000, Binney, using fibre optics, had set up a computer network that could chart relationships among people in real time. It also turned the N.S.A.’s data-collection paradigm upside down. Instead of vacuuming up information around the world and then sending it all back to headquarters for analysis, ThinThread processed information as it was collected—discarding useless information on the spot and avoiding the overload problem that plagued centralized systems. Binney says, “The beauty of it is that it was open-ended, so it could keep expanding.”

When Binney heard the rumors, he was convinced that the new domestic-surveillance program employed components of ThinThread: a bastardized version, stripped of privacy controls. “It was my brainchild,” he said. “But they removed the protections, the anonymization process. When you remove that, you can target anyone.” He said that although he was not “read in” to the new secret surveillance program, “my people were brought in, and they told me, ‘Can you believe they’re doing this? They’re getting billing records on U.S. citizens! They’re putting pen registers’ ”—logs of dialled phone numbers—“ ‘on everyone in the country!’ ”

Drake recalled that, after the October 4th directive, “strange things were happening. Equipment was being moved. People were coming to me and saying, ‘We’re now targeting our own country!’ ” Drake says that N.S.A. officials who helped the agency obtain FISA warrants were suddenly reassigned, a tipoff that the conventional process was being circumvented. He added, “I was concerned that it was illegal, and none of it was necessary.” In his view, domestic data mining “could have been done legally” if the N.S.A. had maintained privacy protections. “But they didn’t want an accountable system.”

Aid, the author of the N.S.A. history, suggests that ThinThread’s privacy protections interfered with top officials’ secret objective—to pick American targets by name. “They wanted selection, not just collection,” he says.

Binney, for his part, believes that the agency now stores copies of all e-mails transmitted in America, in case the government wants to retrieve the details later. In the past few years, the N.S.A. has built enormous electronic-storage facilities in Texas and Utah. Binney says that an N.S.A. e-mail database can be searched with “dictionary selection,” in the manner of Google. After 9/11, he says, “General Hayden reassured everyone that the N.S.A. didn’t put out dragnets, and that was true. It had no need—it was getting every fish in the sea.”

Research Credit: coxsone

One Response to “The Secret Sharer”

  1. Eileen Says:

    Reading this post last night gave me some time to collect my language skills. Whatever happened to our rights here in America?
    What the fluck is going on?
    Its an attack on privacy that knows NO BOUNDS. And I get to pay for it with my taxes to boot. These numbnuts are trawling through undergarments looking for a trace of terrorism semen. So they sort of say. Somebody is getting paid to invade our privacy, and is basically masturbating with the data so they can get off it in whichever way their mind blows.
    Sorry, for the graphic image. But that’s what I think on this Storing everyone’s emails. Woah. That is the most gruesome, bizzare, self defeating exercise I’ve ever heard of. Good luck you morons.
    And I’ve heard of some stupid stuff in my life, but over and above the story that there is “no raditation from Fukushima.” this story takes the cake.
    Good luck you ignoramus with a capital I. Trawl my email. Let me know if you find some terrorism there, because til now I’ve MISSED OUT ON IT.
    GRR.

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