NSA Hoax? XKeyscore, Bat Boy, and the NSA at Black Hat

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Is anyone else confused by all the secretive programs that keep coming out?  All the intrusion of privacy, in calls, on the internet, in your browser, on your social media, from your phone, the list goes on and on and on.  It’s gotten to the point where I’m not sure if we’re in tin foil hat territory or what now.  What I do know I certainly want my constitutional rights intact, yet I also know that many people have accepted that gaining what they think is security through giving up some rights is fine with them, they feel their lives in the end aren’t all that different.  Those people should be tuned to TMZ or something.  I’ve seen and commented on these views from both sides.  Today’s news is that there’s a tool that the NSA uses called XKeyscore that collects nearly everything a user does on the internet.

The news comes from Glenn GreenWald, the famed writer from the Guardian.  According to this report, analysts in the NSA can search through vast databases of email, online chats and browsing histories with no prior authorization.  The source of this revelation is the trove of documents that Edward Snowden leaked.  In XKeyscore , it is reported that the broad justification for the search can be gained by filling in a simple on-screen form when you use the program.   The laws in place that supposedly govern the world of NSA surveillance are pretty clear: they can only be used to target non-Americans at least without a warrant.  It seems however that a simple web form is exploiting some other mandate to work around that.

I personally have no doubts the NSA is collecting and mining information, and based on the size of the upcoming NSA computing facility it looks like they are intent on collecting a lot of it.  So it’s hard for me personally to navigate this and I’m just going to come out and say this and this is completely my opinion.  I have some doubts about the sensationalistic claims that Guardian is putting out.  Hear me out.  First of all, journalism in the UK is quite tabloid-like.  It wasn’t until just very recently that in my own mind would even consider a news story out of any UK site to be valid.  I have a list of these sites and sources in my head that have as much weight as “The Weekly World News” (Bat Boy anyone?) and sorry UK your sites are all over that list.

To be fair in recent times a number of these sites have beaten the US press to punch on a variety of things, but that is because the news media here has its own problems and agenda that have little to actually do with the news.  Regardless the UK media will always have that tinge of sensationalism in my mind and I’m starting to wonder if we’re following them down the road of overblown claims and statements about the scope of some of these things.  It certainly seems they’ve been on this anti-surveillance track for some time.  Ryan Gallagher of the Guardian had an interesting story on how Raytheon had this Riot program that mined social network data, predicting future behavior, and how it used extreme scale analytics to track people now and in the future.  The more I look, the more I see claims like this, YouTube videos, and more.  It sure seems like they’re intent on uncovering so much here and there is discussion about the timing of Greenwald’s interaction with Snowden, the timing of when he was hired by Booz Allen, and when the documents were stolen.  That timing of events has been openly discussed without a benign resolution – it sure seems like there has been a discovery operation going on for some time.  I hope we’ll figure that out at some point.

I have to question Glenn Greenwald, why trickle the documents out like this?  If you’re on the side of full disclosure, then disclose.  Let’s see it – give the world these raw documents already.  Why is it that there is proof that a number of the released slides from the original release are different?   I just really hope this is not a hyped up hoax.  Yes, PRISM is quite obviously real, but the scope – the power you’re talking about I question that.

Then you have the NSA who hasn’t denied any of this and they haven’t changed their point of view that it’s all legal.  Just today, NSA director General Keith Alexander took the stage at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, where he was heckled throughout his appearance.  It seems obvious that officials have gone on the record and not told the truth before.  Alexander defended the agency’s actions by focusing on the collection of metadata, not actual phone calls and communications.  He also stated that only a small team of 35 NSA analysts had access to run queries through their system.  Apparently Alexander handled the heckling well throughout and encouraged the crowd to the challenge that if they could come up with a better system that they are welcome to help.

“IF YOU DISAGREE WITH WHAT WE’RE DOING THEN YOU SHOULD HELP TWICE AS MUCH.” – Gen. Keith Alexander

It seems the NSA now is coming forward with information, defining the scope, reaching out into the community.  General Alexander’s overture to the community is a nice touch.  How well that is received remains to be seen.  There are of course a lot of people upset about so many things that have come out, they are upset about the fate of Edward Snowden, and many are upset about the loss of privacy and constitutional rights.

Here we sit as a community watching this story play out and it is far from over.  The NSA isn’t budging, but they appear to be sharing more information, and they even seem to be reaching out for acceptance.  There is also the fact that no one asked for this collection, but you know what – it’s a fact of life in some ways, when you shop, when you bank, when you do anything, someone is watching, so how different is this?  Then you have the Guardian, who is trickling out document after document, denials from the companies they are naming, requests from the companies to disclose information about these procedures.  It’s a long ways to the end here people.  The only thing I know for sure is that if you are in tech and somehow your product name was or was going to be PRISM, there are a lot of product people that have had to scramble to change that, the name is tarnished.