By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
It seems rather strange that there is such indignant protest that the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States has been trolling social media, gathering intelligence. Even more umbrageous objection arises from the allegation that some of this intelligence is being shared with Unites States’ allies, principally the United Kingdom. The pinnacle dissent in this debacle seems to be that your trustworthy and friendly social networking site has allowed ‘Uncle Sam’ backdoor access to all your data, which of course they all deny.
Let us smell the salts here. Intelligence gathering has recorded biblical roots from the days when Moses sent twelve men to spy on the land of Canaan. Spying is labelled by some as the second oldest profession, but, perhaps, commands less respect than the first. While war with ones foes has been the catalyst of espionage motivation generally, home revolution, subversion and civil dissension have turned the practice inward, thus targeting citizen opinion.
The core of good intelligence interception is communication. Message snatching has moved from bribing or disabling the messenger to sophisticated methods of “wire-tapping” designed to monitor a broader spectrum of interests and thus glean more intelligence. Electronic eavesdropping forms a major part of most intelligence operations the world over today. The intelligence agencies have moved with the technology and social networking just had to fall within their sites.
Back in the 1960s the Western allies introduced ECHELON, the global electronic eves-dropping system; a late Cold War need to intercept then COMECON military and diplomatic communications traffic. With the waning of the Cold War, ECHELON turned its attention to the collection and analysis of private and commercial communications using radio, microwave, cellular, fibre-optic, cyber and celestial (satellite) communications, known by the acronym SIGINT. It continues to operate today and we have known about it for years. The Chinese are doing it, as are the Russians.
Now we have PRISM bursting onto the world stage, thanks in part to whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who is current sought by the United States. PRISM (described as an activity designator – thus the acronym SIGAD) is a complimentary process of the wider reigning ECHELON and a primary source of US and sometimes Western intelligence. The process of activity designation prioritises intercepts based on their worth, perhaps through a process of key word/phrase analysis. Thus, most of the drivel we write hits the waste bins of the NSA. The ‘good stuff’ is pumped into massive non linear databases, making the GDR Stasi’s Department 26 look like kindergarten.
According to leaked NSA documents, social networking giants (Facebook, Google, Skype and Yahoo were named) and some of the big five (Microsoft and Apple included) allowed direct access to their servers and databases by the PRISM system! All deny the access, one stating that they were ‘really protective of the information our users have provided’ – attributed to Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s Director of Engineering. Yet the United States government obtained over three billion items from cyber communications networks in just March 2013 alone. Where did it come from?
Edward Snowden and those documents he leaked suggest United Kingdom complicity in the scheme of things, yet British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, re-acting to the PRISM exposé, told Parliament,
“Our agencies practice and uphold U.K. law at all times… To intercept the content of any individual’s communications in the UK requires a warrant signed personally by me, the Home Secretary, or by another Secretary of State. This is no casual process. Every decision is based on extensive legal and policy advice. Warrants are legally required to be necessary, proportionate and carefully targeted, and we judge them on that basis.”
Who is the Pinocchio here? The British SIGINT operation at GCHQ, which feeds United Kingdom intelligence, is tapping into fibre-optic communication links and drawing data for analysis over a 30 day holding period in an intelligence operation called Tempora. This is not a suspect targeted operation. The information, from both innocent citizens and security suspects, is shared with the NSA in dubious exchanges, perhaps for PRISM intelligence. Is this legal, Mr Hague, or is it just another ‘porky’ offered to cover your backs?
Be very afraid if you are a terrorist or a criminal so naïve as to chat about your dirty deeds in cyberspace or on any legitimate communications network. Big brother is really watching now. We know that, and it may not be legal, but really people who complain the most about privacy violations by social networks are in fact their own worst enemies. It is these same people who share their achievements, plans and wishes, if not there inner-most secrets, in social media. The message here is keep your private data to yourselves, but surely this would defeat the object of social networking.
While some may dillydally innocently, others spin sinister plots and revolution foolishly oblivious to reality on these sophisticated networks. We have come to trust the integrity of our communications platforms and social networks; and we clearly believe we should enjoy some right to privacy. This is a mythical right, since the wicked World cannot work like that in an age of fundamentalist terrorism.
PRISM and other similar systems, like Tempora, have built up complex profiles about you, but you only have yourself to blame for gullibly feeding the system. Our sudden indignity about all this snooping does amuse, and must surely rank in the naivety stakes with those who believe the myth of the tooth fairy. We know it is happening and this makes it all the more nauseating that filthy politicians choose to deny the instruments of their intelligence gathering apparatus.