Snowden's NSA Domestic Surveillance Revelations Are Old News
So Why Are US Power Centers So Intent on Portraying The Whistleblower As a Traitor?
Edward Snowden is now holed up in a Russian airport trying to make his way to Latin America, where several countries have offered him safe harbor.
Snowden is on the run from the US government because of his act, while working for private contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, of leaking documents that reveal the Defense Department’s National Security Agency (NSA) is carrying out widespread domestic surveillance.
The proof of that claim is an order made public by Snowden that was issued in April by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court — a US legal body charged with reviewing and approving clandestine government surveillance requests.
But what was disclosed in that FISA court order is nothing new. It has all been reported previously, dating back to at least 2005, when the first media stories surfaced revealing that the NSA is engaging in widespread domestic surveillance.
At the time, the same telecom company mentioned in the current FISA court order, Verizon, also was accused in media reports of participating in the NSA domestic surveillance program. In fact, it is likely that program — allegedly launched under the Bush administration in 2002 as a response to 9/11 — has never ended and is the same surveillance program referred to in the FISA court order made public by Snowden.
An April 2008 report for Congress prepared by the Congressional Research Service, lays out the facts:
In December 2005 news reports appeared for the first time revealing the existence of a classified NSA terrorist surveillance program, dating back to at least 2002, involving the domestic collection, analysis, and sharing of telephone call information.
… In May 2006 news reports alleged additional details regarding the NSA terrorist surveillance program, renewing concerns about the possible existence of inappropriately authorized domestic surveillance. According to these reports, following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the NSA contracted with AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth to collect information about domestic telephone calls handled by these companies. The NSA, in turn, reportedly used this information to conduct “social network analysis” to map relationships between people based on their communications.
After Verizon was exposed in the media as being a party to the NSA domestic surveillance program, the company issued a public statement denying it was sharing any phone-call data with the DoD agency.
More from the 2008 CRS report:
Verizon has issued a public statement [in 2006] saying that due to the classified nature of the NSA program, “Verizon cannot and will not confirm or deny whether it has any relationship to the classified NSA program,” but that “Verizon’s wireless and wireline companies did not provide to NSA customer records or call data, local or otherwise.” [Emphasis added.]
Verizon was not the only alleged party to the NSA surveillance program that appears to have provided a less than believable statement to the public on the matter. In a January 2007 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez wrote:
A Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued orders authorizing the Government to target for collection international communications into or out of the United States where there is probable cause to believe that one of the communicants is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an associated terrorist organization. [Emphasis added.]
Again, like Verizon, the Bush administration seems to rely on semantics to obfuscate. Though the NSA surveillance program revealed by Snowden does target “international communications into or out of the United States,” that is only half the truth, since we now know the program, as was reported by the media in 2005 and 2006, also scoops up massive volumes of data involving domestic telecommunications traffic.
So, we have to wonder why the US government and the nation’s commercial media are beating the drum of treason so loud when it comes to Snowden’s disclosures, alleging they have caused devastating damage to our national security, when what Snowden revealed has been disclosed previously by the same commercial media.
One source with ties to the intelligence community told Narco News that a "team has already been dispatched" to apprehend Snowden via extraordinary rendition — the extrajudicial removal of an individual from one country for the purpose of transfering the person to another country.
“That team is now shadowing him,” the source claims.
That probably comes as no surprise to anyone, particularly Snowden, who faces incredible obstacles in any bid to make it to a safe-harbor country in Latin America, given all routes by air from Moscow to Latin America will take him through the airspace of the US or its allies.
The international campaign launched by US authorities to vilify and apprehend Snowden is puzzling in its intensity since clearly the disclosures made by him concerning NSA domestic surveillance have all been put into the public arena in the past. The only thing Snowden’s recent disclosures have succeeded in doing is resurfacing the issue, based on new evidence.
Could it be that the sin Snowden committed in releasing that new evidence is that the proof is too good, that it leaves no wiggle room for weasel words, for our government and corporate leaders to mislead the public about their activities — even if they are technically legal and approved by the FISA court.
What is it that might be so damaging about such disclosures now?
For one thing, this nation’s understanding of the power of social networks is far advanced from where it was in the mid-2000s, due to the mass acceptance and use of social media engines such as Facebook and Twitter.
Social Network Mapping
Key to understanding the NSA surveillance program is the underlying reason for gathering the domestic telecommunications data in the first place. As the CRS report notes, the NSA back in 2006 was allegedly collecting data from Verizon and other telecom carriers for “‘social network analysis' to map relationships between people based on their communications.”
In essence, that means the NSA is creating a massive, clandestine social-media system for conducting surveillance. Social network analysis, in simple terms, is a highly refined version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon parlor game, which is based on the premise that any two people on the planet can be linked to the actor Kevin Bacon via six or fewer acquaintances.
Of course, the social-network mapping employed by the NSA makes use of a powerful computer infrastructure and sophisticated software that together are capable of analyzing huge quantities of data at an incredibly high speed.
And undoubtedly this data includes a mix of public-source information, such as voter-registration records (which include names, email addresses and phone numbers) and private data — such as the phone records being obtained by the NSA through the FISA warrant.
When combined, these databases can provide very precise, name-specific relationship maps that can be integrated with real-time geospatial data [already employed in the US drone program as Narco News has previously reported], so that the NSA not only knows who a person is and who they are connected to at any given time, but also where they are on the planet and where they are likely to go next.
It is, in essence, the ultimate Facebook account.
Snowden also has disclosed as part of his whistleblowing that the major purveyors of email and social media globally, companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook, are also swept up in the NSA surveillance net under a program called PRISM, through which these companies allegedly are providing the NSA with massive amounts of user data by allowing the agency to access their servers. These tech giants, like Verizon did in 2006, all have denied this is the case, however.
Clearly, social network mapping on the scale likely being employed by the NSA would be an invaluable tool in tracking terrorist cells seeking to operate inside the US.
But it could be used with equal ease to identify and track individuals associated with legitimate political or religious organizations and movements that some corporations or government agencies deem a threat.
From the CRS report:
Mission creep is one of the leading risks of data mining cited by civil libertarians, and represents how control over one’s information can be a tenuous proposition. Mission creep refers to the use of data for purposes other than that for which the data was originally collected. This can occur regardless of whether the data was provided voluntarily by the individual or was collected through other means.
… The potential wide reuse of data suggests that concerns about mission creep can extend beyond privacy to the protection of civil rights in the event that information is used for “targeting an individual solely on the basis of religion or expression, or using information in a way that would violate the constitutional guarantee against self-incrimination.”
Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or neither, you have to consider that, if not our current president, then maybe it will be the next one who will be less-than vigilant about preventing this “mission creep.”
The implications for the people of this nation and their Constitutional rights is profound should this powerful social-network mapping be applied to areas that might compromise civil liberties — say using it to disrupt union organizing or to manipulate vote counts.
In the final analysis, when it comes to intelligence-community surveillance of the domestic population, this country could well be faced with a stark choice. What do we as a people really fear more: terrorism or despotism?